MTN Swaziland 3G dispute rumbles on; war of words ensues between cellco and regulator

7 Mar 2011

According to the Swazi Observer, MTN Swaziland CEO Ambrose Dlamini has assured the cellco’s customers that MTN is poised to introduce its commercial 3G network ‘soon’. As reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate in January, the Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) declined to grant MTN Swaziland, the country’s sole mobile network operator, a 3G licence. MTN had hoped to received the concession at the end of 2010. MTN was believed to have carried out a month long pilot of four UMTS base stations last year. It was then granted a temporary 3G licence to cover several events including the Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa (COMESA) summit, held last August. The permit was valid from 16 August to 30 September, with 3G services allowed to be offered to post-paid customers only. Dlamini commented: ‘Swazi MTN is 3G ready, all we have to do is to press a button and make the service available to the MTN network users. We are ready, what is outstanding at the moment is to be granted the appropriate licence by the regulator. As soon as we get the licence, we advise that our customers will experience an immense improvement on the data speeds and all other benefits which will come with the 3G technology’.

However, according to the Times of Swaziland, the SPTC has broken its silence regarding the decision – claiming that MTN demanded that the regulator grant it a an ‘exclusive’ 3G licence in a secret meeting dated 24 January. Chairman of the SPTC board of directors Phanuel Vilakati commented: ‘To demand that MTN Swaziland be granted licences without applying for them in terms of the [Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation Act of 1983] would not only be engaging in wrongful conduct but would undermine the purpose of delegating power to the Director of Communications’. Vilakati added that the granting of a self provisioning international gateway licence is a matter of government policy, as it concerns issues of national security. He indicated that no 3G licence will be issued until the government has addressed MTN’s demands.

In a retaliatory gesture, MTN Swaziland has now filed a court application to have SPTC managing director Elijah Zwane arrested for continuing to connect new customers to MTN’s new fixed-wireless network, following the termination of the two parties’ shareholder agreement; until recently the SPTC held a 41% stake in MTN Swaziland on behalf of the government. MTN has alleged that the SPTC is unlawfully connecting customers to its network. SPTC’s affidavit stated: ‘The first respondent (SPTC) admits that it has been operating as a fixed line operator, in addition to other telecommunication services which it is authorised to provide in terms of the [Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation Act of 1983]. It is incorrect to limit the respondent’s interest in mobile telephone services to the joint venture (JV) with the second applicant (MTN)’.

Eswatini, MTN Eswatini