Mobile coverage

Because of the war, Syria’s telecommunications infrastructure is damaged and highly decentralised, even if the situation has improved in 2018. Shelling and sabotage have led to its damage, which has affected the Internet and power connections in several provinces (the most affected are: Idlib, Aleppo, Dayr al-Zawr, Raqqa, Dar‘a, Quneitra, formerly under opposition groups or under IS control). People living near the Northern border often rely on Turkish mobile Internet beamed in from across the border, or on expensive satellite connections (VSAT), which are prohibited, although in reality they are heavily employed due to the damage of the telecom infrastructure. Authorities regularly shut down Internet access to prevent the dissemination of information, particularly before and during military operations. In recent years, the opposition oriented SMART News Agency has reported interruptions of Internet services also in northern Syria under orders from Turkish authorities during their military operation in the Afrin region in January 2018 and in February of the same year in Idlib Governorate, where the cut-off was order by HTS in response to a protest movement against its presence in the city of Idlib.

Turkey is gradually expanding its reach and influence all along the northern border and in the contested are of Idlib and the northern Aleppo countryside. Historically, Syrians and Turks in the border region have long been closely linked. Geographically, this area is generally flat, so signals from Turkish phone operators have always been accessible in Syria. However, with the enduring conflict and the deterioration of infrastructures, the citizens of the Aleppo countryside have started depending mainly on the Turkish networks, which cover areas within the Syrian border, most notably Turkcell, Avea and Vodafone. In July 2018, according to Enab Baladi, an opposition media organisation, the Turkish telecommunication company Türk Telekom, has opened its first customer service centre in the town of A‘zaz, North of Aleppo. It has also established offices for the Turkish postal services there, along with several other services and infrastructures. Enab Baladi’s correspondent in the Aleppo countryside has described that the cell towers placed in al-Bab and A‘zaz, both located North of Aleppo, were reinforced with 4.5G Internet.

In June 2018, the UK-based al-Marsad al-suri li-huquq al-insan (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights), reported that Turkcell started to install a mobile communications tower in the Idlib countryside, following the completion of the Turkish military’s observation posts running from Aleppo to Hama. On the phone tower there is a sign saying: “This tower was installed to provide network coverage for the Turkish forces who are distributed at several observation posts in the countryside of Idlib, Hama and in the countryside of Aleppo.” In January 2019, SMART News Agency reported that the Swedish company R-Cell brought 4G technology in northeast Syria via optical cable from the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The authorities of the Kurdish-held areas of Syria, have issued a statement that has prohibited the use of Turkish Internet lines since 1 April 2019.