The Syrian regulator has given Wafa Telecom a licence to provide nationwide mobile services, joining Syriatel and MTN Syria

This week, Syria has announced that a third mobile player will be entering the market in the form of Wafa Telecom, a domestic company headed up by Ghassan Saba, the country’s ex- Deputy Communications and Technology Minister.

The company has been allocated an operating licence by the national regulator, with commercial services expected to begin in the next nine months.

For the first two years of Wafa’s operation, it will rely heavily on the existing network infrastructure of Syriatel and MTN, with customers roaming on these networks until Wafa’s own is complete.

According to sources, Iranian telecom vendors are expected to win contracts to help build the network infrastructure, though Wafa itself will not have Iranian shareholders. While the exact shareholders have not been announced, Reuters reports that “influential businessmen with close ties to government officials are key investors”.

The announcement of a new mobile player cannot come soon enough, with MTN Syria notably on their way out. The company said in 2020 that the situation in the Middle East as a region had become “intolerable”, suggesting that they would be withdrawing from their telco operations in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iran in the medium term. 

Since then, MTN had drawn up plans to sell its 75% stake in MTN Syria to the company’s minority shareholder, TeleInvest, but this process was quickly mired in controversy when the Syrian regulator claimed that MTN had violated its licencing obligations and denied the government revenue. The regulator ruled that TeleInvest be instated as a judicial guardian of the business and, after almost a year of legal battles, MTN said it would simply exit the market. 

“We reserve our rights to seek redress through international legal processes given the actions of the Syrian authorities that have left us with no other choice than to exit,” Ralph Mupita, CEO of MTN Group, said at the time.

Syriatel is currently by far the largest operator in the country, with over 11 million subscribers. 

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