President Assad's cousin, Rami Makhlouf, runs SyriaTel
A new report by Business Monitor International shows the extent to which the Syrian government has prevented the development of the mobile sector. Although the number of mobile phone subscribers is expected to grow from an estimated 66.76 per 100 inhabitants to 85.10 in 2017, 3G as a percentage of the entire market is only expect to reach 5.72% by that year.
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The Syrian mobile market is served by two companies – SyriaTel and MTN Syria – operating on nationwide 2G/3G networks. Mobile internet services are available, but severely limited in bandwidth intensity. Furthermore, because both companies rely in infrastructure provided by the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE), the government is able to cut off their access to the internet, as it did on several occasions over the past two years to prevent the transmission of mobile phone videos of clashes between the government and rebel forces. SyriaTel is managed by President Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf.
SyriaTel serves approximately 55% of the mobile market with 7.076 million subscribers. MTN serves the rest, with 5.716 million subscribers. BMI estimates that Syrian mobile subscriptions grew 10.2% in 2012 to reach over 14 million in spite of civil unrest making it difficult to obtain and register new SIM cards. Neither provider breaks down subscriber numbers by service type, but BMI believes that 91.3% of all Syrian mobile subscribers are on pre-paid plans, with this model being more common at SyriaTel than at MTN.
MTN is the only company that reports its blended mobile ARPU (average revenue per user). ARPU has declined steadily since March 2011, from about $15 then to about $9 in September 2012, due to an increase emphasis on pre-paid services, which are cheaper than post-paid. BMI believes that SyriaTel has a slightly lower ARPU due to the higher proportion of pre-paid customers.
In general, BMI believes that the number of mobile phone subscriptions in Syria will rise from 12.792 million in 2012 to 19.511 million in 2017, with the number of subscribers per 100 inhabitants growing from 66.76 to 85.10 and 3G as a percentage of the mobile market growing from 2.94% to 5.72%. Potential third operators for the country will continue to be discouraged by reports of increased state interference in the mobile market, as well as international sanctions against Syria.