Mobile network ecosystem
Since 2004, the Yemen Telecommunication Ministry operates Yemen Mobile, the first CDMA in the region. According to the country’s main Internet service provider (YemenNet), in 2011 there were 88,000 subscribers to high-speed ADSL services and about 500,000 subscribers to slower speed dial-up services. After that year the market grew to current levels thanks to 3G services for mobile phones.
Besides the 3G of Yemen Mobile, Sabafon, Spacetel Yemen, MTN Group and Y-Telecom are also present, although only with a 2G technology. Aiden Net, a government controlled new internet company launched 4G in July 2020. Due to their profit orientation, which has grown since the outbreak of the civil war, all of them are continuing to provide services despite the direct attacks on their infrastructure. Since fiber optic networks are deployed above the ground, they are visible and vulnerable. As the Digital2020 Report highlights, 7.88 million Yemenis used the Internet in 2019, which equals to the 27% of the population.
The population accesses the Internet more frequently from mobile phones than from landlines, especially in the case of consumers, families and private individuals. Most companies and offices are equipped with regular Internet access with wireless systems, while individual usage has moved from using Internet cafés, which were very popular before and during the revolution of 2011 and before the 2014–15 coup d'état, to individual access via new or second-hand smartphones.
As the internet access is not limited anymore to internet cafés, the surveillance of internet users became less frequent. For women, who were discouraged to leave their home without male company, this offers a huge opportunity to catch up with the knowledge of the male citizens. Today, Internet cafés are still open mainly in the city of Aden, while in the North, especially in the city of Sana’a, militias ordered the closure of most of them.
Telecommunications were extremely difficult in Yemen even before the war, due to poor infrastructure providing a chronically slow Internet connection. In the South of the country there is also limited phone coverage (as a result 80 percent of Yemeni areas are cut off the Internet). Since the war started in 2015, Houthi rebels took control of Yemen's main telecommunication infrastructures in the North, close to Sana’a, in the area under their rule. This is one of the main reasons behind the decision of Yemen's Minister for Telecommunications and Information Technology, Lutfi Bashareef, to launch the 4G network Aden Net, to end what he called “a siege on telecoms” in areas under government control. Another objective is to transfer the control of Yemen’s telecommunications and Internet network to the South, and as such to deprive the Houthis of millions of dollars coming from taxation of telecom operators under their control.
However, telecommunications were limited also before the conflict because of the attempts to sabotage by some militias, from al Qaeda to Houthi rebels, in different areas of the country. These sabotage efforts targeted the distribution of electricity, as well as the telecommunication lines. One of the most important power stations in the whole country, located in the South, in the city of Mukalla, has in fact been repeatedly assaulted by AQAP militias since 2014.
The ongoing war has exacerbated things not only in villages and in the deserts or up in the mountains, but even in city centres. Since the end of 2014, during the turmoil in the North, people started experiencing lack of fuel to refill generators at home, in schools, shops and offices. Since the beginning of the war many people have often been left without mobile network, as well as electricity, for hours and sometimes even days. After 2017, the mobile network has improved in speed and coverage, especially in the cities, with a significant improvement in Sana'a. At the same time an independent network named Adennet has been established in the city of Aden, also to avoid the network's dependence on the areas controlled by the Houthi rebels. It operates only in the South, depending on the supply of electricity.
According to the #KeepItOn report, in 2019 Yemen accounted for the most internet shutdowns across the Middle East. The tendency seems to be worsening by the first half of 2020 due to a damage to a submarine fiber optic cable in January. While Houthis cut off 80% of the internet, the Covid-19 has also largely contributed to the isolation of Yemen from the rest of the world. The price hikes also contribute to the limited access of the net: while 450 GB internet used to cost 115$, now 400 GB costs 160$ and 200GB 105$. As a response to the nearly 50% increase of the prices, a social media campaign has been launched with the hastag „YemenNet is anti-citizen”.