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CAPE TOWN, May 24 (Reuters) - Six South African telecoms companies, including MTN Group and Vodacom, can keep their broadband radio spectrum licenses until they expire in 2028 after agreeing to buy at least 30 percent of the government's new Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN), the communications minister said on Wednesday.
Minister Siyabonga Cwele told reporters an agreement was reached with operators on May 19, after they initially opposed a government plan forcing them to give up their broadband spectrum and share a national network instead.
The agreement ends the uncertainty over a policy which has been criticized by industry and seen to be holding back WOAN's implementation after the government suggested that mobile operators would not get any new frequencies and needed to hand back what they had.
"The key, important thing is the return of spectrum," said Cwele ahead of his ministry' budget vote speech in parliament.
"For you to lay down your network on the basis you have spectrum, and then if your spectrum is removed, it may affect your continuing investment and cause uncertainty," he said. ahead of his ministry's budget vote speech in parliament.
Creating a single open-access network lies at the heart of a government goal to roll out mobile broadband access in Africa's most industrialized economy, where the state wants to drive down high data prices hampering business development.
Alongside MTN and Vodacom, the other licensees are state-owned Telkom, MultiSource Telecom, Cell C and Liquid Telecom. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Mark Potter, Greg Mahlich)