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Learning from Swaziland’s tumultuous Internet past (timeline + stats)

May 15, 2014  »  BusinessNo Comment

A recent presentation by the managing director of Real Image, one of Swaziland’s leading Internet Service Providers, sheds light on Swaziland’s internet history. In the 20-slide PowerPoint, we find a thorough timeline of telecommunications developments. Of special interest is the conflict between MTN Swaziland and Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Company that continues to hamper infrastructure development to this day. Current stats (20% mobile internet access rate) and the promise of lower costs thanks to network peering stand out as well.

Timeline of Swaziland’s Internet activity:

  • Swaziland first had internet in 1995 with 2 providers via 4.8kbps and 9.6kbps leased line and dial-up
  • In 1998 a project (Internet Initiative for Africa) was established VSAT in various regions including Swaziland
  • An Internet Gateway was to provide wholesale service to ISPs but instead became a 3rd ISP ( due to its location at the telco premises
  • Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Company (SPTC) then started managing the gateway to its own benefit
  • MTN was established in 1998 as the first GSM provider with the hope that an independent regulator would be able to renew the license ten years later (this did not happen)
  • Fixed-line internet growth was limited during the 1998-2008 period as SPTC, a majority equity stakeholder in MTN Swaziland, enjoyed dividend payouts instead of investing in new technology
  • Steps to draft an ICT policy were initiated in 2000 though the process took over 12 years to finalize (it is now known as three different documents)
  • Swaziland Internet Exchange Point (SZiXP) was setup in June 2004 to drive connectivity costs down
  • Traffic through the IXP has not grown substantially since its inception as the peering policy is limited to commercially registered ISPs
  • At the same time, an association of Swazi ISPs was formed (SISPA) to self-regulate the industry
  • When MTN lost a monopoly of the GSM market in 2008, the government renewed the license and SPTC implemented a new licensing framework for ISPs which led to friction
  • In 2008, ADSL broadband was available: 128kbps for USD17 per month to 1024kbps for USD116 per month
  • MTN applied for a 3G license which was granted for USD2.9 million
  • SPTC granted itself a “fixed wireless” license using CDMA technology as to not compete with MTN which in turn, led to a series of court battles
  • MTN currently has a GSM and 3G license while SPTC has a fixed-line license
  • The years-long conflict between MTN and SPTC has caused unease for investors in the telecoms space and consumer confidence in new mobile solutions is low
  • Swaziland has a telecoms regulator (Swaziland Communications Commission) as of July 2013 but independence has yet been checked
  • Telco privatization should be finalized by the end of July 2016 (fixed infrastructure will become a national asset and SPTC will be licensed like other operators)

As of 2014, Swaziland has:

  • 310Mbps international capacity
  • 27% internet penetration rate
  • 20% mobile internet penetration rate
  • ADSL speeds go up to 5 Mbps
  • Mbabane-IXP was established in April 2014 with multiple peering partners and 1Gbps fibre backhaul
  • Fixed users face limited infrastructure and are looking to the mobile network for their content needs
  • Competitive last-mile options like Wi-Fi are set to increase levels of internet penetration

Source: “Internet in Swaziland: What Africa & The World Can Learn,” Ali S. Resting, Managing Director, Real Image (Pty) Ltd., May 2014.

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