Reports from a number of news sources suggest that the Syrian Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority has finalised a draft licence for a possible third mobile operator, potentially ending a two-decade duopoly.
While the licensing of a third operator has been on the cards for a very long time – since 2005 according to some commentators – a tender process actually started in late 2010, with a strong field showing interest, including the companies we now know as stc, Etisalat and Orange.
The Syrian civil war in 2011 put such plans back on the drawing board. In addition the trading landscape for mobile operators in Syria is today not a particularly welcoming one.
In June 2020, we reported that the Damascus Securities Exchange had indefinitely suspended trading shares in mobile operator SyriaTel and that a court ruling would see SyriaTel placed under judicial custody after the firm continued to dispute its outstanding tax bill.
Meanwhile, also following disputed demands for back taxes, MTN Group in July 2021 confirmed that it could no longer operate in the country and that it planned to sell its majority stake in MTN Syria.
Add to this the ongoing civil war, a highly regulated telecommunication services sector and pressure on consumer spending, and the country looks like a pretty challenging place for any new operator to make money, not to mention the small matter of building a network across a war-torn landscape.
Nevertheless the regulator has indicated that a new operator must offer modern services in line with global standards, including launching with 4G technology and being prepared to launch 5G in the future. Whether this is an attractive prospect for a new player remains to be seen.