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Iran to re-tender third mobile operator licence

Communications minister confident of attracting foreign investment despite previous setbacks

Iran to re-tender third mobile operator licence
Iranians could yet have a third national mobile operator to choose from.

Iran will once again try to encourage a foreign mobile operator to establish the country’s third mobile network, after attempts to work with Etisalat, Zain and Megafon failed to develop beyond the award of the licence.

Despite the apparent reluctance of some of the largest telcos in the region to do business in Iran, the country’s recently appointed communications and information technology minister is confident that the mobile licence will attract interest from outside Iran.

According to the Tehran Times, during his induction ceremony yesterday Reza Taqipour said: “We believe that foreign investors are interested in the third operator project.”

In December last year the Iranian government awarded the licence to UAE-based operator Etisalat, but it was withdrawn in May amid claims that Etisalat had failed to stick to the terms of the licence.

Etisalat chairman Mohammed Omran said that the operator’s local partner wanted to change the terms of its arrangement with Etisalat, which put it at odds with the Iranian regulator.

The licence was then awarded to Kuwait’s Zain, with the operator remaining tight-lipped about any potential interest in the Iranian market, until it was withdrawn by the regulator in July.

In early August, Russia’s Megafon was linked with the licence, but the firm’s PR director Peter Lidov said the operator had no plans to enter Iran.

Iran has a low mobile penetration rate, with approximately 50 million mobile subscribers from a population of 61 million. Some 30 million are served by the country’s leading operator, the state-owned Mobile Communications Company of Iran.

The country’s second national mobile operator, MTN, had 18.2 million mobile users by the end of March this year.

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