The tiny kingdom of Swaziland may be landlocked in South Africa, but this hasn‚Äôt stopped telcos in the small country from charging much higher data tariffs than its large neighbour.
Swaziland has a population of just over one million, according to the World Bank, and it is bordered by South Africa and Mozambique to the east.
But despite being landlocked largely within South African borders, mobile and even fixed line data prices in Swaziland are significantly more expensive than in SA.
According to investigations by ITWeb Africa, MTN Swaziland sells its 1.5GB prepaid basket for R399 per month.
MTN in South Africa, meanwhile, sells a 2GB package for R245.
And fixed line prices could compare less favourably in Swaziland as well.
ADSL tariffs for a 10GB capped package, which has speeds of 256 Kbps from Swazi Telecom, is priced at R650 excluding VAT (Value Added Tax). In South Africa, a ‚ÄėTBiz Entry Soft Cap‚Äô package from Telkom, which also consists of 10GB cap and has speeds of up to 1Mbps, is priced at R299 per month.
This price from South Africa‚Äôs Telkom for this package includes VAT but excludes line rental.
Line rental in South Africa, for a 0-50 km distance from an exchange, costs a fixed charge of R241.68. Meanwhile, for a 51-200 km distance from an exchange, the line rental costs R527.82.
A key reason for Swaziland having higher data tariffs than South Africa could be because the country was, until 2011, one of the last African countries with a monopolistic telecommunications market, according to BuddeComm research.
Today, Swaziland has two network operators: Swazi Telecom, which operates as a fixed line network operator and MTN Swaziland, which is the country‚Äôs chief mobile operator.
What makes the situation even more complex is that Swazi Telecom is part of Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC), which is also the country‚Äôs telecommunications regulator.
And Informa Telecoms & Media senior analyst for global markets, Kalyan Medapati, explains that the country‚Äôs lack of competition in its telecoms space could be pushing up its data tariffs.
But he adds that the country‚Äôs geographic position could also be hurting it from a telecommunications point of view.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a landlocked country and they‚Äôll need to transit via SA or Mozambique to get access to an offshore fibre,‚ÄĚ Medapati has told ITWeb Africa.
‚ÄúThat is expensive and likely also not competitive, pushing up the data connectivity prices, which get passed on to customers,‚ÄĚ he said.
Mpumelelo Makhubu, corporate affairs manager at MTN Swaziland, has told ITWeb Africa that the country‚Äôs market dynamics are also different to that of South Africa.
‚ÄúIn South Africa there is a massive price war going on with other operators,‚ÄĚ he said.
He added that MTN Swaziland uses SPTC‚Äôs landline backbone infrastructure to connect customers, which makes it difficult for the company to compete.
‚ÄúMTN is only allowed to connect the last-mile SPTC's fibre optic backbone to MTN base stations,‚ÄĚ he explained.
In Swaziland, MTN has 263 2G mobile towers and 246 3G towers. The 2G sites cover 96% of the country and the 3G network has penetrated 70% of the country‚Äôs geographic area.
In the meantime, though, some data users in the country are fed up with high prices.
Speaking about Swaziland‚Äôs fixed line data offerings, Rob Coombe, the IT manager of Royal Swazi Sugar Corporation has told ITWeb Africa that the country‚Äôs fixed line data prices are overpriced.
He‚Äôs even gone as far as to say that they could as much as ‚Äúsix times higher‚ÄĚ in Swaziland than in South Africa.
He confirmed to ITWeb Africa that his company uses Swazi Telecom‚Äôs fixed ADSL line to connect to the internet.
For a 1 Mbps diginet line, Coombe said his company respectively pays a fixed line fee of R12, 000 and an internet fee of R23, 000 a month. On a 2 Mbps line, the price could go up to R56, 311 per month, Coombe told ITWeb Africa.
And Coombe has bemoaned the quality of the network as well.
‚ÄúThe performance is terrible,‚ÄĚ Coombe told ITWeb Africa.