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MTN Irancell releases 350,000 SIM cards

MTN holds a 49% stake in MTN Irancell, and is its sole financial investor

South Africa's MTN Group has announced the commercial launch of operations in Iran, following the successful purchase in October 2005 of a 49% shareholding in Irancell.

MTN Irancell's coverage currently extends to Tehran, Mashhad and Tabriz, with Sari and Karaj expected to be available by early November.

The network will expand to more than 70 cities by March 2007.

On October 21 MTN Irancell released 350,000 SIM cards into the market and 1 million subscribers are expected by the end of December 2006.

Subscribers to the network will benefit from services that are available immediately upon purchase of a SIM card.

Products have been made available at over 200 stores in Tehran, Tabriz and Mashhad, and the distribution network will increase to 7,000 national points of presence by December 2006.

"MTN is very pleased to be able to provide a quality cellular network service to the people of Iran.

Economic fundamentals support Iranian mobile market potential and we are confident that we will reach our subscriber target by the end of this financial year," commented Phuthuma Nhleko, MTN Group president and CEO.

MTN Irancell's launch follows a successful pilot phase in which all systems were tested and proved ready for roll out.

The operator is reported to be connecting only customers willing to sign a contract rather than prepaid users, with the payable connection fee standing at approximately US$160.

A lingering concern with regards MTN's investment in Iran is that the South African operator does not control the entity and the Iranian government's involvement in the operation is likely to remain high given that telecoms infrastructure in the country is viewed largely as a state asset.

The government has invested no cash in MTN Irancell.

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