Syria's telecom sector of key importance in times of turmoil
Syria today is a country which has been in the midst of civil war for a number of years. This volatile environment is disastrous for Syria's infrastructure and unfortunately it is the telecommunications networks and equipment which become key targets for attacks by the opposing forces.
The existing government of a country involved in civil war might also shut down the communication systems in order to hinder strategic warfare by the opposition. Power failures have also contributed to telecoms outages in Syria. Whatever the reason behind the various outages the outcome is that it creates havoc for citizens and severely impacts on the countries' ability to function.
There have been a number of times in recent years when the Internet and mobile system in Syria has been shut down with no traffic reported for short periods. There is great power to be had by both controlling and destroying telecoms infrastructure in a war where every little advantage counts. A functioning telecoms system is a valuable lifeline to relay information to the outside world and social media in particular is often used to communicate developments from a war-torn country. By shutting down such communication methods it can be difficult for outsiders to obtain an unbiased view of the reality of a situation.
From hacking computers in order to intercept tactical information; using television platforms and social media to broadcast distorted or inflammatory messages and wiping out mobile network towers in order to stop the free flow of information the world has heard many reports of telecommunication services being used for strategic purposes in many recent civil wars.
For the citizens of Syria, many who are already considered poor and have been displaced from their homes a number of times the lack of telecommunication services is just one more burden in a country where public hospitals, water, food, schools and fuel supplies have all been compromised. A lack of telecoms services also severely hampers on the ability of outreach workers to co-ordinate humanitarian aid efforts.
Prior to the civil conflict - Syria had installed an extensive fixed-line infrastructure in terms of the number of lines. STE had also deployed equipment to support the delivery of broadband services and increased transmission capacity to provide the requisite bandwidth. While these were positive signs - the current situation in Syria means its telecommunications infrastructure is very vulnerable - making it difficult to see any significant progress ahead for the sector in the near future. However the very fact that telecoms services are utility in nature means that the infrastructure is likely to be restored again once fighting ceases and the country stabilises.
Key telecom parameters 2012; 2014 Sector | 2012 | 2014 Subscribers to telecoms services (million): (e) Fixed Broadband | 0.38 | 0.342 Fixed-line telephony | 4.42 | 3.98 Mobile phone | 12.9 | 15.5 (Source: BuddeComm based on ITU)
Syria has a tightly controlled market where the domestic and international fixed-line market remains under the strict monopoly of the government-owned Syrian Telecommunication Establishment (STE). STE is currently the sole provider of infrastructure and is responsible for all types of telecommunications, including Internet bandwidth. Syria's mobile market is served by a duopoly comprised of two operators, MTN Syria and Syriatel. In January 2015, both Syriatel and MTN Syria were awarded long-term freehold licences by the Syrian authorities, valid until December 2034. These replace the previous build, operate and transfer arrangement.