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MTN using illegal network for 3G - SPTC

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MBABANE – Another conflict is brewing between Swazi MTN and SPTC after it emerged that the mobile phone company might be using an illegal network for its 3G technology.


The Times newspaper is in possession of a confidential document where the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) is raising concerns on how Swazi MTN is providing the 3G technology to its customers.
This publication understands that the document has already been presented to both the SPTC, and Swazi MTN Board of Directors and joint-committees who have since included the issue on their agenda.


In its objective, the document states: “The purpose of this document is to highlight the technical resource requirements of a typical 3G mobile network as well as to provide a technical analysis and providing appropriate evidence of how the Swazi MTN 3G network topology is structured with a view of showing that Swazi MTN is utilising other means of carrying or backhauling their 3G voice and data traffic back to their core network without the need to use available SPTC transmission backbone infrastructure as stipulated in the Swazi MTN licence conditions as well as the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Act of 1983.”


SPTC is convinced that MTN, in the way it is providing the 3G technology, is in violation of the Joint Venture Agreement that exists between the two companies.
“The 3G backhauling mentioned above is not only in contravention of the licence conditions by MTN but is also in contravention of the JVA as MTN is using the 3G network to provide transmission backhauling services to their customers who are on the 3G network and since these 3G sites are collocated with their 2G sites they may even be backhauling the 2G traffic on this network.


“This is a service that SPTC has been providing ever since MTN started operating, hence the conflict of interest similar to that claimed by MTN with SPTC’s Fixed Wireless service. This would probably not apply if MTN was only using this network for their own internal inter-office communication and not carrying customer traffic as is the case presently.”


SPTC, in the document, alleges that the unofficial licences being used by MTN to carry the backhaul network are in contravention of the regulatory conditions governing the use of frequency spectrum in the country.
The corporation says what MTN is allegedly doing could have detrimental consequences because the frequency channels used by the mobile telecommunications company, their location and capacity is unknown.


“They may also lead to serious quality issues and interference problems with other users of the spectrum as they are not official, furthermore, since these frequencies are being used unofficially and the Regulatory Office is not aware of them, MTN is not obliged to pay any licence fees for them,” the document goes on to explain.


SPTC and Swazi MTN are currently at loggerheads following the corpo-ration’s decision to launch wireless products, which the mobile phone company views as a violation of the JVA.
MTN took SPTC to court over the products where the Corporation was ordered to stop selling the gadgets and was further fined E30 million in damages.


SPTC has however, relaunched the products with the assurance that they were now fixed – meaning they cannot be used as mobile phones but MTN insists that they are still mobile.
SPTC also insists that the products are not mobile and has continued to sell them and customers are buying them in numbers.  


Finger-pointing between MTN, Regulator


MBABANE – Swazi MTN and Telecommunications Regulator Stan Motsa pointed fingers at each other when asked to give answers to SPTC’s concerns.


A questionnaire was forwarded to Swazi MTN on July 11, 2013 seeking their side of the story on the matter.
MTN Corporate Affairs Manager Mpumelelo Makhubu proposed a meeting with this reporter where the matter would be addressed.
The meeting took place on July 18, 2013 at the MTN Headquarters in Ezulwini in the presence of MTN Technical Director Wandile Mtshali and their Compliance Officer.


The outcome of that meeting was that MTN asked to be given more time to address the issue and that the story should not be published until Times Manging Editor Martin Dlamini returned from an overseas trip.
On Tuesday, July 23, the Managing Editor was briefed on the issue by this reporter and he then spoke to Makhubu over the phone where the latter promised to give answers to ‘some of the questions’.


However, later that day, Makhubu was called but he changed tune and said the questions should be directed to the office of the regulator. The questions were indeed sent to the Regulator who said he was busy but would look at them and respond on Friday (July 26).
On Friday, the Regulator was called and he said it was MTN that should respond because it had all the information being sought.
“Generally, those questions should be directed to MTN as they should be the ones to answer. The questions are clear, they ask about what MTN has done so they should have all the answers. If you want information you go to the first person, which is MTN, not the second person. I advise that you go to MTN, I think they should be able to respond to all the questions,” Motsa said.


When Makhubu was called and told what the Regulator had said, he sounded surprised and said he failed to understand what MTN should say because they did everything through Motsa. “But if you are sure that you have your facts right, you can go ahead with the story,” he said.

... SPTC justifies its suspicions

MBABANE – SPTC has outlined why it believes Swazi MTN is using an illegal network for its 3G technology.


The Corporation, in the confidential document, first gives background information that in 1998, when Swazi MTN began its operations in Swazi-land, it was issued with a 2G licence which was renewed in 2008 and then granted a 3G upgrade in 2011.


“The licence issued to MTN in 2008 was technology specific, hence the need for a licence upgrade as they now wanted to provide their mobile services on a 3G technology as opposed to the GSM 2G technology specified in their original licence,” the document details.
The 3G network is described as the third generation of mobile networking and telecommunications which features a wider range of services and advances network capacity over the 2G network.


It has high download and upload speeds of 14.4 megabits per second and 5.8 megabits per second respectively, which, the document articulates, “are dependent on the transmission bandwidth available”.
“For a user accessing services on a 3G network to have a real 3G experience or to enjoy the data transfer speeds mentioned above, there must be sufficient transmission backhaul bandwidth to connect the user to the core network that hosts the services to be used by the user.  For this to happen, a typical 3G base station will require a minimum of 10Mb of transmission backhaul bandwidth.”


Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC), in the document, says that the bandwidth requirement of 10Mb per base station is based on the request that Swazi MTN made to the Corporation in their application for additional bandwidth in preparation for the 3G rollout.
When the application was made to SPTC by MTN, further states the document, SPTC was in a position to ‘immediately provide’ MTN with the required bandwidth to about 48 of MTN’s 3G base stations because the Corporation already had optic fibre connectivity to these base stations.
“At the same time, SPTC then undertook a study to determine how the other 169 base stations were going to be addressed and as a result of this study SPTC further made provisions for projects in the 2012/2013 budget year to address some of the other base stations. Subsequent to these plans being made, MTN then indicated to SPTC that they no longer required the transmission backhaul bandwidth to their base stations as they were now self-providing these as per the conditions of their 3G licence and upgrade.”


SPTC argues that if MTN’s assertion that they were given the right to self-provide by the 3G licence upgrade is true, the mobile telephone company would have one of two options to achieve this; either using optic fibre or microwave links.
“It is highly unlikely that MTN would use optic fibre at this point due to the time it would take them to lay the fibre cables to their base stations hence the assumption that they are using microwave links. This is further confirmed by the fact that according to the regulatory office, when MTN initially made the application for the 3G licence and spectrum allocation, they also applied for several frequency channels on the microwave frequency spectrum of 13GHz and 8GHz.”


SPTC also states that ever since MTN started operating, it has been using leased lines provided by SPTC but the mobile phone company has not applied for additional lines to increase their transmission backhaul capacity despite having introduced 3G services.
“This is also despite the fact that as indicated earlier, they had approached SPTC for additional bandwidth to prepare for their 3G launch which has already happened. In fact the opposite has happened during this period (Jan 2010 to date) MTN leased lines provided by SPTC have decreased from 138 in January 2010 to 101 in August 2012.”


It further states: “It would therefore be in order to assume that MTN is self-providing for the additional transmission backhaul bandwidth required for their 3G network as per their assertion that the licence upgrade gave them the right to self-provide, implying that MTN has installed and are operating their own transmission backbone network infrastructure.”




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