When Syria’s Communications Ministry announced the tender for its third mobile licence, there was a lot of excitement in the industry.
The country had a low mobile penetration rate, a young population and a government that was supposedly on the path to reform.
Seven companies eventually submitted bids, including France Telecom. A European bidder showing interest in a Middle Eastern country is usually a positive sign. But as the political situation in the region began to deteriorate, so too did interest in Syria’s licence.
All but Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Qatar Telecom (Qtel) pulled out, citing a dissatisfactory licence structure, which includes 25 per cent revenue share and a 20 per cent government-owned stake.
It is not just the licence structure or the security situation, uncertainty has also plagued the future of the licence.
Few firms would be willing to risk investment in such an environment. STC is the only remaining bidder that has been vocal in its support and confidence in the licence, but this is a last chance for it to develop a significant presence in the Middle East market. STC is currently only in Bahrain and Kuwait, which are relatively small markets.
Other than an announcement that the auction had been postponed, the Ministry has remained quiet on the future of the licence. The most likely reason is that it is, itself, clueless as to what will happen as President Bashar al-Assad grapples to keep his population under control.
In his own political interests, Al-Assad would not want a Saudi Arabian or Qatari operator in Syria. There have been talks of a remerging bid from Turkcell. At present, nothing is certain in Syria and the future of the third licence is equally unknown.