The Syria - Telecoms, Mobile & Broadband report includes all BuddeComm research data and analysis on this country. Covering trends and developments in telecommunications, mobile, internet, broadband, infrastructure and regulation. Please review the Executive Summary and Table of Contents for more details.
Syria has the most regulated telecoms sector in the Middle East and one of the least developed. This has resulted in a country where there is strong growth potential if the rules were to be relaxed. News reports of coming change continue in large numbers but as yet nothing has happened.
Fixed-line services remain the monopoly of state-owned Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE). STE is investing in upgrading and extending its network and aims to gain 100% coverage by end-2013. Fixed-line subscriber numbers are still rising and although penetration rates are low, they are higher than in many more wealthy Middle Eastern countries.
STE is also investing in Syria’s very limited international infrastructure. Syria is linked to Cyprus by the UGARIT submarine cable, a 239km cable that began operating in 1995, with designed transmission capacity limited to 622Mb/s. In November 2008 STE and the Cypriot Communications Authority (CYTA) signed an agreement to expand the cable and increase Internet capacity. CYTA and STE also agreed to initiate feasibility studies to establish a second undersea link.
Two Build-Own-Transfer operators, Syriatel and MTN Syria, provide mobile services. Syriatel is locally owned and MTN is a subsidiary of MTN of South Africa, which gained ownership through its purchase of Investcom. There have been continual reports that both Syriatel and MTN Syria will be sold, with Turkcell of Turkey and Zain of Kuwait cited as likely buyers, among others. Both operators would prefer to convert their BOT contracts into regular mobile operator licences not least because of the high royalties (50% of revenue) that they are required to pay to the Syrian government.
Mobile penetration rates are relatively low - Syria is one of the few markets in the region with room for expansion. A tender for a third mobile licence has been much talked about and would be very attractive to the regional major operators such as Zain or Qatar’s Qtel but it has yet to eventuate. Licences to operate 3G services have also been imminent for some time. MTN has been conducting 3G trials since mid-2007 and has considerable infrastructure in readiness.
Internet penetration is low and broadband penetration extremely low. The government exercises strict Internet censorship with many sites, including Facebook and YouTube, blocked in addition to websites critical of the Syrian government. Broadband services are expensive and difficult for a residential user to subscribe, with ADSL in Syria reported to be the least affordable in the Middle East. However there are no restrictions on receiving the multitude of DTH satellite TV channels available in the Middle East.
Syria remains a market with great potential for expansion but requires much market liberalisation to achieve that potential.