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ICASA, FCC announce "momentous collaboration"

Keabetswe Modimoeng.jpg

Regulators in South Africa and the US have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will see them collaborate and share ideas "on matters of mutual interest".

Billed as a "momentous collaboration", the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) signed the MoU virtually yesterday.

The MoU will initially focus on telecommunications regulation and policy in line with what was described as the "mutual benefit of the two regulators". 

“This is a momentous collaboration that illustrates the confidence that our global counterparts have in ICASA," said ICASA chairperson, Dr. Keabetswe Modimoeng (pictured).

"This collaboration places the Authority on solid ground to achieve international best practices, cutting-edge regulatory approaches and further validates South Africa’s standing in the global ICT arena,” Modimoeng added.

It is widely expected the MoU could eventually lead to Huawei being locked out of a key African market.

Huawei has a strong foothold across the African continent and last year South Africa's minister of telecommunication and digital technologies, Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams, spoke at the firm's Better World Summit.

Huawei is present in networks operated by MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom, with South Africa's president Cyril Ramaphosa previously expressing his support for the company.

The MoU is also likely to cause headaches for rain, South Africa's low-price, data-only mobile operator. It launched Africa's first commercial standalone 5G network in 2019, showcasing its technology at MCW that year, but the network is powered by Huawei.

Around the world Huawei has faced bans in a number of markets, including Bulgaria, Belgium, and the UK, where operators could face heavy fines for not removing equipment. In Sweden, the manufacturer offered to fund security checks as a way to win contracts in the country, but the regulator's decision was upheld. Meanwhile in France, Orange CTIO Michaël Trabbia, last year told Capacity that although Huawei is not officially banned in the country, “in reality it is almost impossible to work with the Chinese”.

Global bans on the use of Huawei equipment have already started to reflect in the company's financial position. For full year 2020, Africa was grouped with Europe and the Middle East, and as a region revenue across EMEA for the full year declined by 12.2%

Huawei's mobile business has also been hit. This year it has suffered supply chain challenges for smartphone components, which could see output drop by 60%, and last year it confirmed that Honor would be sold. At the time, the decision was reported to be due to the need to focus on high-end handsets and corporate-oriented business following US sanctions.

Officially ICASA and the FCC have said their collaboration will include "an information exchange and technical cooperation", not only in telecoms but also the wider ICT industry.

The FCC's acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel said: “So much can be accomplished through cooperation and the mutually respectful sharing of knowledge and experience.

"Today, I’m proud to have formalised our partnership with our friends in South Africa on issues of telecommunications policy, competitive markets, technological innovation, and closing the digital divide in both countries. I thank Dr. Modimoeng for his leadership and partnership and look forward to further exchanges with ICASA.”

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