WiMAX operator Screamer raided in spectrum usage controversy

South African WiMAX provider Screamer Telecoms has had its offices raided and equipment confiscated by state communications regulator ICASA. The raid, which took place over the weekend, reportedly saw the seizure of WiMAX equipment from a number of the carrier’s sites, as well as a raid on the company’s offices in Centurion, Pretoria. ICASA said that the necessary police warrants had been used during the seizures.

Screamer CEO Gavin Hart has, however, denied that any such raid took place and that the company is operating as usual. Harte said that equipment from one site had been removed in order to have it checked for compliance with ICASA regulations and that interruptions to services over the weekend were the result of a scheduled network upgrade.

The apparent confusion is par for the course on the Screamer-Sentech-ICASA front. The carrier’s operation in South Africa’s 2.6GHz band has been the subject of ongoing controversy over recent years; its use of now-defunct state wireless operator Sentech’s spectrum is alleged to be illegal, despite Screamer’s insistence that everything is above board and that it has a legitimate agreement in place to lease the spectrum.

When rumours began to circulate in 2009 that the carrier was using the spectrum illegally, Sentech initially denied any knowledge of the situation. In 2010, internal documents leaked from Sentech suggested that a deal was in fact in place, albeit an apparently illegal one, and that ICASA was aware of it but chose to ignore it. It has been suggested, but not proven, that the irregular deal was allowed to go ahead as it benefitted politically well-connected individuals who owned shares in Screamer’s holding company GWI.

Sentech maintains that an initial agreement to lease spectrum to GWI/Screamer was terminated in 2007 and that it is now up to ICASA to resolve the issue.

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