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Internet access in Syria (updated)

May 9th, 2009 · 18 Comments · Business

Broadband internet is finally catching on in Syria. Here’s how you can get on board.

92313529_23ec6e0476Free is best. There are a huge number of wifi cafes in Damascus, despite what some people would have you believe. In most cases, just go in and ask for the password. They will be fine with you sitting there for hours with just a coffee. There are restrictions on YouTube and Facebook though.

The second option is to go to an internet shop. Typically you will pay 60SP per hour ($1.20). They are plentiful and fast – and they can help you with any access issues. The fastest shop in Damascus is called Delicious in Shaalan/Sibki just before Benetton. It is open 24 hours a day, but the prices are slightly higher (100SP per hour).

picture-12If you want always-on broadband access, you’ll need to get a 3G SIM card. You will soon be able to get one of these from the main Syriatel outlets (Merjeh/Fardos etc) for 1500SP – they’re not available yet because they’re still in the trial period (although the other network – MTN might be selling them). If you don’t have a USB dongle, you can buy one of these for 6000SP (although be warned – these are always in very short supply). Subscription costs 2000SP per month with a 1GB download limit (additional gigabytes cost an extra 2000SP) and there is no minimum-term contract. If you know you’re going to go above the initial 1GB then it’s better to sign up to the 5GB package for 6000SP. The speed can in theory be as high as 7Gbps. It’s likely to be a lot slower.

(Photo: Flickr, updates thanks to Anas).

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18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 James // May 10, 2009 at 1.42 pm

    Hi there.

    I’m moving to Damascus in August and this is really useful information, as internet access is going to be really important for me.

    I’m going to be living in the Qura al Asad area, outside of Damascus. Do you happen to know if:

    a) the SyriaTel 3G service will work that far outside of Damascus.

    b) is it possible to get a landline based DSL connection out there?

    Really grateful for any information.

    Your blog has been one of my main sources for research prior to coming out so keep up the good work.

    J

  • 2 Sasa // May 10, 2009 at 1.44 pm

    Hi James,

    Thanks for your message. Yes, 3G will work in Qura Al Assad. But getting a broadband landline might be difficult – it takes a long time, and as a foreigner the rules are stricter. Getting pre-pay dial-up is very easy though – you can buy cards in most shops.

    Have fun!

  • 3 James // May 10, 2009 at 1.47 pm

    Wow! Quick response.

    Thanks very much.

    J

  • 4 Anas Qtiesh // May 10, 2009 at 8.03 pm

    Hey Sasa,

    Syriatel are not offering 3G subscribtions for new customers as they are not out of the trial period yet, although MTN might be offering new subscribtions.

    While the Speed is great in both carriers, the prices (which are the same) are ridiculous. I consumed the 1 GB/month limit in less than a week just surfing.

    The higher package you get the less it costs. While the 1GB/month package costs 2000SP(~ $40US), the 5GB/month package costs 6000SP (~ $120US).

  • 5 Lena // Jun 12, 2009 at 10.26 pm

    I will be Syria for a month and need to work from there. Can you give me names of some of the cafes with the fastest internet. I heard a place called inhouse has free wi-fi – is that place one of the fastest? Also, where do I go to buy a 3G card, can you name a place? You said Syriatel is not offering new subscriptions, can they give me a card if a friend has a subscription with them, e.g. can I get it via my friend’s account? Thanks!!

  • 6 Sasa // Jun 13, 2009 at 1.30 pm

    Delicious in Shaalan (opposite Benetton) is the fastest I know of. InHouse does have wifi, but it’s not very reliable. Many cafes do have free wifi, but going into an actual internet shop is always more reliable.

    As for your friend’s account, I’m not sure. But obviously 3G won’t be as fast as wifi.

  • 7 fayek // Aug 22, 2009 at 12.01 am

    Hi

    You spoke about 1GB for 3G Sim card, but i’d like to know if it is 1GB received or 1GB sent ?

    Thanks

  • 8 Sasa // Aug 22, 2009 at 12.36 am

    Sent and received. Unless you are emailing loads of photos, most of your usage will be received.

  • 9 Mo // Sep 2, 2009 at 9.39 pm

    Hi,

    I have couple of questions i would like to ask:

    1)I want to know whether the 3G internet will work in areas such as (Dahiat Qudsia)?

    2) Is 1GB 3G internet download limit enough when using on MSN or Skype for the whole month?
    I know it is not enough for downloading movies and music, but how about if someone wants to use it for calling purposes using MSN or Skype.

    3) As well, could someone tell me where exactly i could by the USB dongle and the 3G sim card.. I would appreciate it if someone can tell me the exact location of the Shops which offer them.

    4) i have a 3G USB dongle which i got from the UK, does it work in Syria if i just changed the sim card and placed the syrian sim card… or do i need to buy the whole dongle from the syrian service provider?

    Thank you so much .. you response will be highly appreciated

  • 10 Sasa // Sep 3, 2009 at 2.48 am

    Hi Mo,

    First the big problem is getting your hands on a 3G subscription (either pay as you go, or pay monthly). They are very limited. Anas says MTN may be offering them, Syriatel probably aren’t.

    As for your questions:
    1 – in Qudsaya there is certainly 3G coverage.

    2 – to work out how much data you will use see this http://broadband.o2.co.uk/mobile/Tariff.jsp

    3 – You will find the Syriatel and MTN service centres (where you can buy a line) all over the city. Syriatel are in red, MTN in yellow. If you need precise locations, try Merjeh, or opposite Cham Palace hotel for Syriatel. Or try Mezzeh autostrad or the Muhafaza circle for MTN. Those are the biggest branches. But they really are everywhere.

    4 – it depends if your dongle is locked. Which UK network is it from. I know O2 don’t lock theirs, as for the others, I’m not sure. The best way to test is to try another UK network sim card. But anyway, as far as I know, you can’t buy a Syriatel/MTN 3G mobile broadband sim card without the dongle (and it will cost you a lot more than in the UK!).

    Let us know how you get on.

  • 11 Mo // Sep 3, 2009 at 3.08 am

    Hi,

    Thanks alot for your fast reply… really appreciated.

    Just to let you know, I bought my dongle from 3 (Three).

    However, Do you have any idea how much will it cost me and whether there is hidden costs ?

    I am also trying to access the syriatel and MTN websites.. but no luck.. i just want to read more about it from the official website.. can you help?

    Thanks alot..

    Hamad

  • 12 Sasa // Sep 3, 2009 at 3.15 am

    Hi Hamad,

    I think 3 lock their dongles – but you can try it out with another UK sim.

    The Syria costs are above (they’re identical on both networks).

    Try this website: http://www.surf.sy/

    Enjoy!

  • 13 Vanessa // Oct 20, 2009 at 1.43 pm

    Hi, we’re thinking of staying in damascus for 3 months early next year, but we would really need high-speed internet access at home for work purposes. does anyone know if it’s possible to find apartments / expat apartments that would have that kind of internet setup (ie up to 5GB per month)… many thanks.

  • 14 Rowan // Aug 15, 2010 at 3.36 pm

    Hi all,
    We are staying in Damascus for 3 months studying Arabic. The other day I visited an MTN office to ask about the 3G internet dongle, and this is what they told me:

    To buy the dongle from them costs SYP 2500, to register for a line costs SYP 900, and then if you are a foreigner you have to pay a deposit of SYP 10,000. Then there is the monthly access fee for which you get charged for your download (approx SYP 1,500 for 2 G, for example).

    The catch is, when you want to leave you have to let them know, they disconnect your line and then a month later you receive a cheque to refund your deposit. Since we don’t plan to get a Syrian bank account this didn’t suit us. Also, it hardly seems worth it for two months of access followed by a month without while waiting for our refund.

    I’m not sure what Syriatel’s arrangements are. Has anyone had similar/different advice from MTN?
    cheers,
    Rowan

  • 15 elias // May 11, 2011 at 8.20 pm

    Hi

    I just want to ask you ,
    My 3G from syriatel is not working since 7 days.
    I called them, and told me they have problem in their connectivity system
    Are you facing this problem??

    Thank you

  • 16 Sajjad h. Rizvi // Dec 27, 2011 at 9.18 pm

    Hi
    I will be visiting Damascus next month. I have an iPad and Samsung Galaxy S 2.
    My only requirement is Skype.
    What is the best option either to get MTN 3G sim or wifi cloud.
    I will be there for 10 days only.
    Thx

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