With three potential candidates dropping out of the running in the last few days, the bidding race for Syria’s third mobile licence has come down to two competitors – Saudi Arabian STC and Qatar’s Qtel. The three high-profile international operators that have pulled out of the auctions are Etisalat, Turkcell and France Telecom.
The Syrian telecommunications ministry claimed that regulatory requirements had deterred the three operators from voting. The operators would have been required to surrender control over their infrastructure to the government under a seven-year lease, as well as pay a 25% tax on revenue.
Regulatory disputes are unlikely to have been the sole reason that the operators declined to bid – Syria is currently the scene of widespread protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been in power for 11 years. It is thought that the politically volatile environment may also have acted as a deterrent.
"Qtel confirms that it has submitted both the financial and technical bids for the third licence in Syria," read an official statement from the Qatari firm, while STC has also declared that it will partake in the bidding.
There are currently only two significant players in the Syrian mobile market: Syriatel and MTN, which respectively have 6 million and 4.9 million connections. There is plenty of room for expansion however; the relatively low penetration rate (53%) would allow for the presence of a third market player.