The rumours are back, but this time with official backing: Syria will soon have a third mobile phone network, joining Syriatel and MTN.
It was initially supposed to happen a few years ago, but no operator was appointed. Then in 2008, there were rumours that Kuwaiti mobile company Zain, or Turkcell wanted to take over Syriatel, and again, that didn’t happen.
This time round, it looks likely that the bidding process will actually open, and a company will win the contact. But will it make any difference. Since they launched, the pricing structures of Syriatel and the second network (initially known as 94, then Areeba, and now MTN) have been identical. When one company launches a new product, the other creates exactly the same thing with a different name. There has been no competition – as far as consumers are concerned MTN and ST might as well be one company.
The hope is that with a third company, restrictions on price competition will be lifted, and the new entrant will be able to undercut the existing players. The question is, who will run the third network? Zain looks like it is in the strongest position, being one of the region’s biggest mobile phone operators. And it is loved by consumers. Its customer service is legendary in a region where the customer seems more of an inconvenience than a client. Zain regularly answers questions on Twitter, and its call centres can actually resolve problems.
So even if the price restrictions aren’t lifted, could Zain shake up Syria’s mobile environment?