MTN Group and Liquid Telecom sign partner agreement to offer improved services in Swaziland
Swaziland is one of the last countries in the world to abolish an almost complete monopoly in all sectors of its telecommunications market: until 2011 the state-owned posts and telecommunications operator SPTC also acted as the industry regulator and had a stake in the country's sole mobile network, in an uneasy partnership with South Africa's MTN. A new independent regulatory authority was established in late 2013 and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged the government to issue a second mobile licence. SPTC had temporarily entered the mobile market independently using its CDMA network but was challenged about this by MTN in the courts.
In early 2014 the government initiated a new organisational structure for SPTC, which is focussed on maintaining and operating the national telecom backbone infrastructure while a new subsidiary operates the telephony business.
Despite the lack of competition, mobile market penetration in Swaziland has been well above the African average, though subscriber growth has slowed in recent years. The average revenue per user (APRU) is one of the highest in Africa. Real competition is now required to take the market to the next level, and to this end the telecom regulator and government are formulating the legislative and regulatory conditions to enable Viettel, which in late 2014 had bid for a licence to operate mobile telephony services under the Swavitel brand, to enter the market.
The internet sector has been open to competition with four licensed Internet Service Providers (ISPs), but prices have remained high and market penetration relatively low. ADSL was introduced in 2008 and 3G mobile broadband services in 2011, but development of the sector has been hampered by the limited fixed-line infrastructure and a lack of competition in the access and backbone network.
Swaziland has a relatively well-developed fibre optic backbone network. However, being landlocked, the country depends on neighbouring countries for international fibre bandwidth. This meant that access pricing was high, though prices have fallen in recent years in line with greater bandwidth availability resulting from several new submarine fibre optic cable systems that have reached the region in recent years.
New independent regulatory authority set up; Second mobile licence expected for Viettel; Mobile market growth slows; ARPU levels remaining high; Uncertainty continues over national backbone and international gateway regulations; New international fibre connections increase internet bandwidth; SPTC sells stock after closing down its mobile services business; Government initiates three-year program to structurally separate SPTC into network and services divisions; The Mbabane Internet Exchange Point (MB-IX) is launched, as part of a drive to route 80% of local traffic through local IXPs; ITU and EC criticise high MTRs in Swaziland.
Market penetration rates in Swaziland's telecoms sector 2015 (e) Market | Penetration rate Mobile | 87% Fixed | 5.2% Internet | 26% (Source: BuddeComm based on various sources)
Companies mentioned in this report:
Swaziland Posts & Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC), Swazi MTN, Africa Online, Posix, Real Image, Viettel.