Summary: In the first three months of 2008, the number of Iranian cellular subscribers grew by an estimated 22.6% to reach 35.049mn; which helped to increase mobile penetration to 49.4%. It appears that much of the growth can be attributed to the continued expansion of MTN Irancell, which is owned by South Africa's MTN Group. MTN Irancell ended 2007 with an even larger mobile customer base than we had predicted (6.006mn). Furthermore, in Q108, MTN Irancell's customer base expanded by over 50% to reach 9.025mn at the end of March 2008. This allowed MTN Irancell to raise its market share to almost 28%, up from 21% in December 2007 and 6.4% in March 2007.
Due to the stronger than expected subscriber growth in Q108, we have revised our previous set of mobile forecast figures. We now predict that the sector will grow by 60% in 2008, enabling penetration to rise to over 64% by the end of the year. Meanwhile, it was reported in May 2008 that Russian cellco MegaFon had declared its intention to bid for Iran's fourth national mobile licence when it becomes available. The Iranian government is expected to offer a new mobile licence later in 2008, with the new licensee competing with established operators Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI), MTN Irancell and Taliya. MegaFon has said that it is prepared to invest around US$4.6bn in the construction of a GSM network in Iran.
Iran's Ministry of ICT has suggested that, once issued, Iran's new mobile licence will include access to the spectrum necessary to provide 3G services. The Ministry has also said that foreign operators will only be able to have a 49% stake in the new mobile operation and that Iranian companies will be able to participate in the tender in the form of a consortium.
At the time of writing, there has been no real progress with plans to privatise Iranian fixed-line incumbent, TCI. In September 2007, the Ministry of ICT announced that 51% of TCI would be privatised before the end of the Iranian calendar year on 20 March 2008. As a forerunner to the sale of a controlling stake in TCI, a 5% stake in the operator was scheduled be floated on the Tehran Stock Exchange before the end of December 2007. The floatation of this minority stake did not take place as planned, and in January 2008 it was reported that TCI would first have to be established as a fully-licensed telecoms service provider.
In April 2008, Iran Telecom Chairman, Saaber Feizi, reported as saying that the various companies which constitute Iran Telecom were interconnected in such a way as to make it impossible to separate them when the company is eventually offered for sale on the Stock Exchange. Feizi therefore stressed that Iran Telecom would be sold along with all its subsidiaries, including mobile business unit Mobile Communications Company of Iran (MCI).
Iran continues to sit at the bottom of our Business Environment Rankings for the Middle East, although the country now sits in tenth rather than eleventh place, due to inclusion of Iraq in our latest set of figures.
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