South African Regulations For Starting a Wireless ISP
At the outset, we need to highlight that telecoms law is a complex area of law and that we are by no means experts in the field. This article will only highlight some of the key elements with regards to the regulations and process for consideration when starting up a WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider) in South Africa.
Legal Requirements and Industry RegulationThe Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is responsible for regulating the Communication industry in South Africa. A licence is required whenever communications are carried from one point to another. Also, if you want to deploy and operate a physical network, whether the network infrastructure consists of radio equipment for running a wireless network, fibre optic cables, copper-based lines or switches, you are required to obtain a licence through ICASA.
Why Are There Licencing Requirements?The South African Government imposes licencing requirements to ensure that:
- Frequency can be efficiently allocated and coordinated
- Services can be provided to under-serviced areas
- The market and competition is regulated
- Consumers are protected in their dealings with service providers
There are 2 Main Categories of Licences:1.) Electronic Communications Service (ECS) licence:
Internet Service Providers and even VoIP providers which might own some of their own hardware, but which mainly make use of and rely on another company's network to provide their services, only require an ECS licence. This licence is typically held by an ISP which does not operate its own network.
2.) Electronic Communications Network Service (ECNS) licences:
With this licence, you may roll out and operate a physical network. This network can be made up of any technology you choose: radio equipment (for a wireless network), copper cabling, fibre optic cabling etc.
The ECNS once again breaks into two subcategories based on geographical coverage:
2.1) C-ECNS (Class Electronic Communications Network Service licence) This is the form of licence required by operators wanting to set up their own network focusing on a smaller area, district or local municipality.
2.2) I-ECNS (Independent Electronic Communications Network Service licence) This licence allows the holder to roll out and operate an electronic communications network nationwide or across a province.
In order to start building your communications infrastructure and selling bandwidth you will need to obtain the relevant licences as defined and required by ICASA. Both the Individual ECNS and ECS licences are issued for an initial term of 20 years.
ApplicationsTo apply for a licence simply go to ICASA’s website to obtain and complete the necessary forms. A non-refundable application fee is required with each submission.
- There are different licences listed on ICASAs website so be sure to read through the different requirements on their website.
- Licencing requirements are also reviewed every so often so it is advisable to review the requirements and make sure your business is compliant.
- For the purpose of this blog post, we included the most relevant licence for WISPS. ICASA however provides comprehensive information on a variety of licences and fees. Please visit ICASA’s website.
ICASA Licence FeesObtaining your licence is step one. Upon receiving your licence, it is important to understand that the Compliance Manual Regulations stipulates the requirement for a number of different reports which the holders of ECS and ECNS licences are required to submit in order to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of their licences. Licensees will need to make 20 different submissions to ICASA each year in order to remain compliant.
If this sounds overwhelming, you will be pleased to know that there are resources available to our industry to help licensees navigate the complex maze of regulatory applications, procedures and reporting. One such resource is Ellipsis, established in 2007 as a provider of specialised legal advice and services to the telecommunications industry. Please refer to ellipsis.co.za for assistance and up to date information.
On the 1st of April 2013, ICASA changed the methods by which annual licence fee renewals are calculated so that the fee is now based on a licence holder’s overall revenue. Staying up to date with your licence fees is imperative to avoid shut down of transmission equipment.
Your Infrastructure & ICASA Type Approved EquipmentWhen purchasing communication equipment it’s imperative that you purchase from a reliable supplier that ensures that all type approvals are obtained prior to distribution. If the equipment used within your network does not carry the required Type Approvals, you risk the chance of equipment getting seized upon ICASA inspection.
Scoop Distribution prides itself on our transmission equipment being type-approved. We list all ICASA type approvals on our website and you can download the certificate for your product at any time. Simply navigate to the product in question on scoop.co.za and download the pdf.
Our type approved products are supplied with a Type approval sticker similar to the one below. Please direct any queries to [email protected]
ICASA has put the Type Approval process in place to ensure these products adhere to local regulations and are safe to use. Scoop fully supports ICASA's efforts to regulate the communications industry in South Africa.
To view more information on the type approval process, please visit this link.
Our online platform has been optimized to ensure all necessary information is readily available. We encourage our customers to make use of our online order system which shows stock availability and pricing in real-time, as well as payment and courier options on check out.
If at any time you need assistance with Wireless regulations please feel free to contact [email protected]
In addition to having all our ICASA documents listed on our website, we also have a very simple and easy to follow online RMA process for returning faulty products.
If you plan on starting a WISP outside of South Africa most of the information discussed above can be applied to your region. Simply lookup the regulations for the communications industry in your country. See list here.
Blog post by Scoop Compliance Team