Mobile ownership

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the number of mobile phone subscribers, per 100 people in Syria is 85.66 (2017). This percentage has steadily and constantly increased since the introduction of mobile phone services in 2000, with the exception of the years 2013 and 2016, when there were two inflections and the percentage decreased in comparison to the previous two years. This might be related to the population drops coinciding with intensifying levels of the conflict in the country.

As stated in ITU’s The State of Broadband 2018 report, the percentage of mobile broadband subscriptions is 12.7 percent of the number of inhabitants (2017 data).

Overall, while mobile phones are used almost universally, there are disparities and complexities: People in rural areas are less likely to have access to connectivity and limited access to Internet-enabled phones. Moreover, the level of tech literacy may differ a lot. Observation suggests that mobile phones are mostly and predominantly used to stay in touch with family members and acquaintances, and collect information and be updated to news on the current events.

However, at different degrees, mobiles are also used for entertainment (listening to music and watching videos on YouTube, but also playing video games and quizzes) to escape from work- family- and war-related issues. An ICT4Refugees research of 2016 found that these platforms are so dominant that many refugees do not use websites or even know how the Internet works. They found email is rarely used and “smartphones are not typically regarded as a portal through which one can independently search for information […] rather information flows are overwhelmingly peer-to-peer.” (p 11)

Since 2011, the Ministry of Telecommunications has significantly and regularly increased mobile phone rates, a measure that has benefited the two mobile phone companies, Syriatel and MTN, owned by well-connected entrepreneurs. The latest such increase, was decided in June 2016: The cost of a one-minute call raised from SYP9 to 13 for prepaid cards, and from SYP6.50 to 11 for postpaid subscriptions. Data communications through the 3G network have seen their cost rise from SYP6 to 11 per megabyte.