Britain’s Vodafone says it will partner an Iranian internet service provider to improve mobile network and IT infrastructure in the Middle Eastern country.
HiWeb, a small, privately owned Iranian operator, will get assistance from Vodafone to modernize infrastructure and expand landline and mobile internet services for customers under the partnership.
The pact covers marketing, distribution and so-called internet-of-things services for HiWeb customers but Vodafone would not take any equity stake in the project.
Vodafone said the Iran venture would benefit the British telecom carrier’s multinational corporate customers from improved fixed-line and mobile services in Iran.
“Vodafone's corporate customers will get the benefit of quality network services in the country and HiWeb will be able to access Vodafone's global expertise," Partner Markets Chief Executive Diego Massidda said in a statement on Tuesday.
HiWeb was privatized in 2009 after starting as a subsidiary of Iran’s Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade in 2003.
Vodafone is the second Western telecom carrier to wade into the Iranian market after Orange SA. France’s largest telecom company has signed a technical assistance contract with Iran’s largest cellular operator Mobile Telecommunication Co. of Iran (MCI).
Iran’s growing market of 80 million people has drawn the attention of international phone carriers because of its potential for new investment and expansion of fixed and mobile broadband services after the lifting of Western sanctions.
South Africa’s MTN is the only foreign telecommunications company already operating in Iran which the post-apartheid firm's chief executive has described as "one of the most significant ‘virgin' mobile opportunities in the world."
MTN owns 49% of Iran’s second largest operator Irancell which constitutes the South African company’s third largest market. Iran’s other mobile phone operators are Taliya and RighTel.
“All operators around the world are looking for a form of cooperation with Iran,” Bruno Mettling, Orange’s deputy chief executive for the Middle East and Africa, has told the Wall Street Journal.
The lifting of sanctions in February has generated enormous interest in Iran, including from the likes of Boeing, Airbus, Germany’s industrial group Siemens, Italy’s steel firm Danieli and French automakers Renault and Groupe PSA, the maker of Citroen and Peugeot cars.
MCI, better known as Hamrah-e Aval to Iranians, dominates 70% of the telecom market in the country and is listed worth over $4.3 billion on the country’s benchmark Tehran Stock Exchange.
The state-run Telecommunication Company of Iran owns 90% of MCI. Only 10% of the cellular operator's shares, which have seen dramatic gains in recent years, are public. MCI has reportedly about 17 million postpaid and 49 million prepaid subscribers.