SPTC offers to withdraw contentious mobile, fixed-wireless services

22 Mar 2012

The Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) has reportedly made an offer to withdraw its ‘ONE’ mobile phone service and fixed-wireless ‘Fixedfone’ services from the market in a bid to end its bitter ongoing dispute with MTN Swaziland. The revelation has been made on the eve of the hearing at the International Court of Arbitration in Geneva, Switzerland, which was due to begin last night. The Times of Swaziland claims that the information was provided by ‘impeccable sources’ who confirmed that the SPTC made the offer earlier this month in a last-gasp attempt to stop the arbitration process from proceeding. MTN Swaziland has long maintained that the SPTC’s dual offerings are in breach of the joint venture (JV) agreement signed between the two parties in 1997, which prohibited telecoms SPTC – which operates in the incongruous dual role of national telecoms regulator and fixed line incumbent – from offering services that directly competed with it. For its part, SPTC claimed that it faced financial collapse if it abandoned the fixed-wireless initiative, on account of the substantial sum already invested in it. Despite the latest development, SPTC managing director Elijah Zwane told The Times that, although the proposal had been put on the table, ‘no agreement has been reached with Swazi MTN so the arbitration process goes on’.

After finding its repeated attempts at launching a rival mobile network under the ‘ONE’ brand blocked by MTN in 2010/11, the SPTC promptly changed tack and launched fixed-wireless services under the ‘Fixedfone’ brand in August 2011, offering limited mobility within each one of twelve designated zones: Big-Bend, Hlathikulu, Lavumisa, Luve, Mankayane, Manzini, Mbabane, Nhlangano, Pigg’s Peak, Simunye, Siphofaneni and Siteki. However, despite the considerable physical bulk of the Fixedfone handsets, it was reported that customers were driving them around in their cars and using them in different geographical regions to make use of the service’s cut-price calling tariffs; SPTC dismissed these occurrences as ‘anomalies’, claiming that the process of locking the Fixedfones to their designated zones was ongoing. In the four months ending 31 December 2011 the SPTC sold 33,000 Fixedfones, which compared favourably to the 44,000 wireline subscriptions reported every year since 2006. At end-2011 MTN Swaziland claimed 767,000 mobile subscriptions.