Millions wait for cellular service in Iran

Millions of Iranians have paid the equivalent of US$600 each to preregister for mobile phone services as the Mobile Communication Company of Iran (MCCI) gears up for an aggressive expansion of its network, according to a member of the company’s board of directors.

Iran currently has 3.5 million cellular phone subscribers and is planning to add more than 10 million more subscribers before the end of next year, said L. Vasli, a member of MCCI’s board of directors, speaking with IDG News Service at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom Asia 2004 conference and exhibition in Busan, South Korea.

“All of the people in Iran would like to have a mobile,” he said.

Earlier this year, MCCI preregistered 5.5 million subscribers, each of whom paid a subscription fee of $600 and will have to wait for at least one year before their subscriptions are activated, Vasli said. The funds raised through these preregistrations will be used to fund planned expansions of the company’s national GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network, he said.

By the end of this year, MCCI will increase its total number of subscribers to 5 million, Vasli said. In addition, the company will also begin a trial of GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) with 5,000 subscribers, he said. Expansion of the network will kick into high gear next year, when MCCI plans to spend $500 million to increase the number of post-paid subscribers to 12 million and will begin offering prepaid services that should attract an additional 2 million subscribers, Vasli said.

The contracts for this expansion will go exclusively to the three European vendors that have already been qualified by Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MCT): Nokia Corp., Siemens AG and Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, Vasli said. MCT officials have said they do not plan to increase the number of approved equipment suppliers, according to Vasli.

Looking further down the road, MCCI expects to have 35 million subscribers by 2009 and regulators will likely issue a license for a second mobile operator, Vasli said.

The ongoing war being fought by the U.S. in neighboring Iraq has not affected the country’s plans to expand its mobile infrastructure, Vasli said, and MCCI is under pressure from subscribers to expand and improve its GSM services.

“Our customers are not very satisfied with our service, with overly congested networks and spots where there is no coverage,” Vasli said.

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