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Mobile Internet in Iran through GPRS/EDGE
Monday, 13 April 2009
As we already experienced in Iran in 2007, getting connected to the internet, using the mobile internet services of network operator MTN Irancell, is not that difficult. Although the private operated network doesn’t have full coverage, for those who travel with a laptop / Netbook / PDA it’s a good alternative next to finding Internet Café’s. This for a fairly reasonable price and internet connection speed wherever in the MTN Irancell network. Here you find our experience with MTN Irancell in march 2009.

MTN Irancell internet connection
MTN Irancell internet connection
MTN Irancell is open to foreigners – unlike TCI, which is the state operated cell phone network only accessible for Iranians. With a passport copy an MTN Irancell SIM card is easily bought for about 25 US$ including 5 US$ balance.

Mobile internet costs in Iran

The cost for mobile internet using GPRS/EDGE in Iran depends on when you use it. Normally the charge is about 5 Rial per Kilobyte during working days. That’s about 0.51 US$ per Megabyte.  Off-peak from 11pm to 6am the cost is 2 Rial / Kilobyte, which is about 0.20 US$ / Megabyte.

A card of 50.000 Rial (resulting in 48.544 Rial balance) gets you about 24 Mbytes of browsing in off peak hours. With a GPRS/EDGE connection that’s worth several hours on your laptop. Although not extremely cheap, the service allows to connect to the internet without having to look for an internet café and connect your laptop / netbook / PDA to a local network. As a reference based on previous experiences using an unlimited flat-fee based GPRS/EDGE internet service in Oman, about 60 Mb / day is our equivalent for a full day online.

Connecting to the internet with MTN Irancell

To get your GPRS/EDGE capable cell / mobile phone connected to the internet you need WAP settings. Best is to have this done in the shop where you buy your MTN Irancell SIM card. It requires a call to the helpdesk to receive those settings in a special SMS / text message.

MTN Irancell access point settings
MTN Irancell access point settings
Although MTN Irancell has English speaking operators, if you’re not familiar with WAP it’s best to have it done for you. Most likely to save the WAP settings on your cell phone you need to enter a helpdesk provided PINCODE. Usually this is “1234” or “0000”, however it depends on the operator who sets this PINCODE for you.

Once you can browse the internet on your mobile phone using your built-in WAP Internet browser, next is to configure the required settings for your Laptop / Netbook / PDA. We used a Nokia 3110 Classic which requires an Access Point name to be entered. At the time of writing the AP (Access Point) name is “mtnirancell”. Once entered and activated, the cellphone is ready for use with a Laptop / Netbook / PDA.

Connecting a laptop to MTN Irancell Internet

Next is to configure the dial-in on Laptop / Netbook / PDA. The only thing that needs to be checked it the dial in number. For MTN Irancell this is *99***#. Username and Password are random – usually the fields can not be empty.

MTN Irancell settings for Windows XP
MTN Irancell settings for Windows XP
From here the MTN Irancell internet connection should work from any Laptop / Netbook / PDA using either Infrared, Bluetooth or a Cable.  Connection speed is as can be expected from GPRS/EDGE. Most of the time we had an EDGE connection, meaning many GPRS base stations already got upgraded to EDGE. Outside cities, Irancell doesn’t have much coverage – same as for border area’s. Next to this, in march 2009 we noticed that cross border text messaging / SMS didn’t work both ways.

Internet filtering in Iran

Internet in Iran is heavily filtered. Nonetheless most popular e-mail services work, like Yahoo and Gmail. Facebook did work, while other social network sites didn’t. Google Earth also showed but the client can’t be downloaded in Iran due to external embargo rules. Most popular news sites in English also showed – sometimes an older cached version popped up of BBC news. Most striking was the erratic behavior of filtering causing pages to not show for a while – then 10 minutes later it did.

Travelling with a laptop in Iran

Travelling with a Laptop / Netbook / PDA is not an issue in Iran. A laptop is seen quite regularly at borders, same for GPS and latest cell phone technology. Although one can expect questions at the border and in exceptional cases have customs take a look at your hard disk. Same for a backup disk, such as wide available 2,5” USB portable hard disks. Obviously – as in many Islamic countries – there are import rules for electronic data. It can be worth to familiarize yourself with that and take appropriate measures.

In all the experience of being mobile connected to the Internet in Iran was a positive one. Not many Iranians are familiar with the GPRS/EDGE technology and are amazed to find a tourist connected to the internet in places where there’s not much infrastructure around.

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