It appears that Syria has finally awarded the third mobile telecommunications licence it has been promising to deliver for over ten years.
The winning operator is Wafa Telecom, which has received a licence from Syria's telecommunications authority, according to local media reports.
After an agreement in January 2017 it was assumed that the Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran (MCI), the country's leading operator, would get the licence. This clearly hasn’t happened.
Little seems to be known about the new entrant. Reuters reports that influential businessmen with close ties to government officials are key investors in the company, which will launch its services over the next nine months. Financial details of the new licence do not appear to be available.
Although Wafa is now the third player in the market, it’s not a particularly level playing field at the moment. The second biggest player, MTN Syria, is not competing on anything like equal terms, partly because of regulatory actions and licence payment demands that, as we reported last year, have caused majority shareholder MTN to announce plans to leave Syria after 15 years.
The main operator is Syriatel, which has over 11 million subscribers. The country’s population is estimated at 17.5 million.
As we reported earlier this year, the tender process actually started in late 2010. The start of a civil war in 2011 massively delayed the process.