JOHANNESBURG, Feb 22 (Reuters) - South Africa's telecoms regulator on Monday pushed back the announcement of the qualifying bidders for its long-awaited auction of new spectrum by a month to March 23, just a week before the sale had been due to be completed.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) said it was completing a contract with the external auctioneer who will oversee and manage the process, and the auction would now start on March 31 rather than finishing then.
Allocation of high-demand spectrum is seen as key to expanding broadband services, especially 5G, in Africa's most industrialised economy, where the high cost of telecommunications is a barrier to doing business.
Telecom operators have been waiting over a decade for ICASA to release new spectrum licences but Telkom TKGJ.J , which is partly state-owned, and MTN Group MTNJ.J have challenged the auction process in court. remain confident that we are not off the track but in a better position to complete the licensing of high-demand spectrum," ICASA's Chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng said.
Telkom is seeking an order to halt the auction and there has not been a judgment in its case yet. MTN's separate challenge has yet to be heard in court.
Operators including MTN, Telkom, Vodacom VODJ.J , Cell C, Rain networks and Liquid Telecoms have applied for licences.
The spectrum auction process was pushed back three months in September due to a delay in issuing invitations to apply.
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