Thursday 15 July 2021

People of Eswatini want their Internet Connectivity back

Eswatini (or eSwatini) formerly called Swaziland is a sovereign state in Southern Africa, neighboured by Mozambique and the Republic of South Africa. It's a landlocked country of 17,000 km2 and approximately 1.2 million inhabitants. It is one of the smallest countries in Africa. It was one of the last countries in the world to abolish an almost complete monopoly in all sectors of its telecom market. Until 2011 the state-owned Eswatini Posts and Telecommunications also acted as the industry regulator and had a stake in the country’s sole mobile network, in an uneasy partnership with MTN Eswatini. 

Eswatini now has two mobile network providers: MTN Eswatini (formerly MTN Swaziland) and Eswatini Mobile (formerly: Swazi Mobile).

A new independent regulatory authority was established in late 2013 and has since embarked on significant changes to the telecom sector. Eswatini Telecom was provided with a unified licence in early 2016, while MTN Eswatini secured spectrum in the 1800MHz band to provide LTE services. Eswatini Mobile has launched GSM, 3G and LTE services, supported by a network sharing agreement with MTN Eswatini.

Mobile market penetration in Eswatini is well above the average for the region, though this is largely due to subscribers taking SIM cards from both networks in order to access cheaper on-net calls. Subscriber growth has slowed in recent years and has been affected by the economic slow-down resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eswatini is landlocked and so depends on neighbouring countries for international fibre bandwidth. This has meant that access pricing is relatively high, though prices have fallen more recently in line with greater bandwidth availability resulting from several new submarine fibre optic cable systems that have reached the region in recent years. In addition, Paratus in September 2020 completed a terrestrial cable linking Mozambique with South Africa and running through Eswatini.

There are very few operators actually offering international roaming in Eswatini. Not even all South African providers, but only MTN for a surcharge. 

Up to 2017 MTN Swaziland, also called MTN Swazi and now renamed to MTN Eswatini, was the only provider in the country. It has a quite good coverage up to 4G/LTE at rather high prices. That's why many local people complain about rates higher than in South Africa. 

2G is up to EDGE on 900 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE was added in 2014 on 1800 MHz (Band 3).

Newly licensed operator Eswatini Mobile broke the monopoly of MTN in the country when it launched on 28/7/2017. It shares tower infrastructure with incumbent MTN. The operator has disclosed plans to invest SZL 600 million (US$ 44.8 million) in its network over the course of the next 5 years. In 2019 it was renamed to Eswatini Mobile after the country changed names.

The newcomer is headed by local tycoon Victor Gamedze and was awarded a concession in December 2016, fending off competition from locally-owned SDnet and international providers Viettel and Orange.

The network is started in Mbabane, Ezulwini, Matsapha, Manzini and 24 other towns. Their service covers 80% of the population in 2017. All sites have 4G/3G/2G voice and data services and now cover major parts.

As part of its ‘Ambition 2025: Leading digital solutions for Africa’s progress’ strategy, African mobile operator MTN Group has selected Finnish vendor Tecnotree to be responsible for overseeing the digital transformation of its operations in Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Eswatini, South Sudan and Zambia. Tecnotree, which specialises in developing software support systems to telecom services providers, has secured a five-year deal to provide MTN Benin, MTN Cote d’Ivoire, MTN Eswatini, MTN South Sudan and MTN Zambia with cutting-edge software solutions that will enable them to provide customers with new cloud-based services.

The award of the contract to Tecnotree comes in the wake of the South Africa-based group’s announcement earlier this month that it plans to modernise its networks using Open RAN technology, allowing for the rapid expansion of 4G and 5G population coverage across its markets, in support of Ambition 2025. Under the plan, MTN aims to roll out Open RAN across its entire African network by the end of 2021 working in collaboration with its partners Altiostar, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, TechMahindra and Voyage.

Pro-democracy protests are currently ongoing in Eswatini, the government has ordered network providers MTN Eswatini and Eswatini Mobile to disconnect the nation. The connection was restored  yesterday amid court challenge.

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