The Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) has finally stopped selling its contentious fixed-wireless and mobile products, The Times of Swaziland reports. In March 2012 the SPTC reportedly made an offer to withdraw its ‘ONE’ mobile phone and fixed-wireless ‘Fixedfone’ services from the market, in a bid to end its bitter ongoing dispute with the country’s sole mobile operator, MTN Swaziland. The offer was made on the eve of a hearing at the International Court of Arbitration in Geneva which sought to put an end to the feud. The paper reports that the SPTC has already connected around 50,000 fixed-wireless customers, 14,000 mobile customers and around 10,000 users of mobile internet dongles. The uptake is regarded as a significant achievement for the SPTC, which has claimed just 44,000 wireline subscriptions for every year since 2006. Amon Dlamini the SPTC’s acting managing director told the newspaper that the company stopped the sale and promotion of these products about a month ago to smooth the ongoing negotiations with MTN. However, Dlamini has claimed that all existing subscribers will remain connected to its networks, a move which is sure to anger MTN.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, 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. 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.