STE to decide on cell phone providers

Published November 29th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Syria’s telecommunications authority is reportedly in the process of narrowing down the number of candidates to set up the country’s mobile telephone systems. Plans by Germany's Siemens and Sweden's Ericsson are being considered, and Kuwaiti, Qatari and Egyptian companies are said to be running as well. Two companies will be selected to set up 850,000 lines each, in line with an investment contract of a billion dollars over 15 years, reported the Al-Thawra daily. 


An initial mobile network was set up last February in the capital, Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo and the western city of Latakieh for a trial period of a year. Three companies, including Siemens, Ericsson and Lebanon's Investcom, installed the pilot projects free of charge, with Ericsson's system in Damascus designed to serve 30,000 subscribers, while the other two — for which Siemens supplied the equipment — each serving 15,000 subscribers. However, only 17,000 people signed on because of the high access cost of $1,200.  


While the companies have worked for free, all revenues from the systems have been going to the Syria's telecommunications authority. Siemens and Ericsson are already veteran operators in Syria and have played major roles in the development of its telecommunications system for some years. Investcom is a partner in France Telecom Mobile Liban, one of Lebanon's two GSM operators.  


When asked earlier why Syria has lagged behind most other countries in the Middle East in introducing a mobile telephone system, the chairman of its telecommunications authority, Makram Obeid, said it was all a question of priorities. His organization was first interested in reducing the 2 million-long waiting list for fixed lines, he said. 


But observers say that the security-conscious Syrian government also shoulders much of the responsibility for the delay. Fax machines only became widely available in 1995, the import of computer modems was banned until June 1998, and an Internet service was only first introduced in April 1998 and for the first year it could only be used only by government departments and state-owned companies. 


A major telecommunications project is currently underway in the country for the installation of 1.65 million lines. When complete in 2002, it should bring the total number of fixed lines to 3.4 million by 2002. The biggest contract in the program, valued at $120 million, belongs to Ericsson and it involves one million new lines in 62 exchanges. It also is supplying intercity fiber-optic links.  


Siemens won a $41 million contract to supply 720,000 lines. Switching equipment for 250,000 new lines is being supplied partnership involving the South Korean Samsung Corporation and a local company, Syrionics. Samsung Electronics is also supplying a rural fiber optic system. Germany's Bosch is supplying intercity microwave links and new microwave links between rural areas and cities. The sixth contract, won by Ericsson in late 1998 and valued at $15.1 million, is for  


By 2004, the Syrian land-based system should include four million fixed lines by 2004. That will equal 20 telephones per 100 inhabitants compared to 10 per 100 inhabitants in the early 1990s. — (Albawaba-MEBG)

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