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Using MTN Irancell in Iran
Thursday, 27 December 2007
Since 2006 foreigners in Iran can use the national mobile phone networks on a limited scale in national as well as in international roaming mode. As a foreigner in Iran it’s now possible to buy a mobile pre-pay card from MTN Irancell or use the international roaming service of TCI with a foreign mobile network. Here you find a few experiences with Iranian mobile phone networks in November / December 2007.

Roaming in Iran - TCI network

The TCI network in Iran allows roaming connections with the Vodafone mobile network in Europe. (and maybe other networks too) TCI stands for Iranian Telecommunication Company and is state owned. The TCI network is widely used by Iranians and has pretty good coverage all over Iran. Roaming rates, as in other countries, are expensive but making and receiving a mobile phone call is now possible. Seeing a foreigner making a mobile phone call is still a bit unusual for Iranians. It’s assumed it’s not possible for a foreigner to be connected with an Iranian mobile network.

MTN Irancell prepaid SIM card

For a temporary mobile / cell number there is now MTN – Irancell which sells ‘pay as you go’ prepay cards. Prices are pretty affordable, in fact a pretty good deal when compared with the rates of a foreign mobile network in roaming mode. Unfortunately in December 2007 the MTN – Irancell network has limited national coverage. The network is just over a year old and growing. Practically it works in the big cities. In the Baluchistan province there is no service (yet).

MTN Irancell prepaid rates

Calling with an MTN – Irancell card in Iran is cheap. Even for calls to Europe the mobile network has affordable calling rates (about 27 eurocent / minute). Scratch cards of 50.000 Rials are available in most of the phone shops. The usual game is to ask 55 / 60.000 Rials for a card of 50.000 Rials. However they should sell for the price listed.

The MTN mobile service works well for outgoing calls. For incoming calls from outside the MTN network it doesn’t perform very well. Incoming calls originating from MTN – Irancell numbers do work most of the time. In many cases calling a MTN mobile number from a fixed line or a TCI mobile, a busy tone is produced during day and evening. The same applies for incoming Skype calls.

MTN – Irancell advertises SMS and GPRS services on it’s website. The SMS text service doesn’t work with a normal ‘pay as you go’ simcard. Apparently a separate contract has to be signed to get to use the SMS text service. It has to be signed at the place where the prepay sim card has been purchased. Once forgotten, the mobile phone card is pretty much reduced to voice calls only, especially for travellers on the move.

MTN Irancell GPRS EDGE Internet

The GPRS (Internet) service of MTN – Irancell works from start. This without having to activate it through a helpdesk call or SMS text message. For auto-configuration of your phone dial l 130 then choose 3 and after select 6. You’ll receive 1 SMS message announcing the GPRS settings will be send in a few. Next the GPRS settings message is received which should be saved and activated. When you phone requires a pincode to activate the service, it’s 0000.  The MTN GPRS service also has the EDGE extension in the big cities which can speed up the GPRS communication rate 4 times.

The Irancell service menu when calling the 24/7 helpdesk (dial 140) is in Farsi only. Basically this means you need a translator to help you go through the dial menu. An English speaking operator can be reached on request by pressing “0” after dialling 140.

MTN Irancell performance

Compared to other GPRS networks in Pakistan, India, Nepal the MTN – Irancell network had a low performance during nov 2007 (more updates below). First of all the GPRS service isn’t available most of the time. Probably because the capacity of the network is too low to meet the demand. (Voice calls have priority over GPRS / EDGE connections) This was the case in Yazd (old city) and Esfahan (Amir Kabir Avenue area & City centre). In the early mornings and evenings the availability of GPRS/EDGE is a little better.

When GPRS is available, the network doesn’t always hand out an IP address. When it does produce an IP address the MTN - Irancell isn’t always connected to the Internet. In the event an internet connection is there the speed is pretty low with long lags between short bursts of ingoing and outgoing bytes.

The GPRS rate for MTN - Irancell is about € 1,12 / Mb (15360 Rials) which is expensive compared to other Asian mobile networks. For a data connection only (no voice calls) MTN-Irancell has a special SMS-MMS-GPRS sim card also. (The sim card takes about €8,-). However with the low GPRS/EDGE performance usability is low. For anyone who isn’t used to dealing with mobile GPRS/EDGE services – the breaking point with the Internet service of MTN - Irancell is quickly reached. It’s more reliable and a lot cheaper to find an internet café and connect from there. (about 8000 Rs / hour for ADSL speed)

So basically the MTN at the time of writing – Irancell prepay card only works for those who stay in the big cities most of the time. That is, when making outgoing calls to national or international numbers. To be reachable for people outside the MTN – Irancell network is unreliable. This is acknowledged by several Iranians too. They prefer to use the TCI network for better performance and prices. Nonetheless compared to the pre-2006 times it’s a major improvement anyway.

A mobile phone in Iran is a little cheaper compared to Pakistan, India and Nepal. However import duties on mobile phones in Iran have risen by 60 % since 2006. This to help support domestic production which has not yet started in large volumes. To meet demands mobile phone smuggling has picked up significantly up to a volume of 4.5 million sets since the import tax increase. In November 2007 about 20 million simcards are in operation in Iran (population: about 70 million). This figure is expected to be doubled in 2009. This according to the head of the Iranian Telecommunications commission in the Iran Daily newspaper.

MTN Irancell reduced GPRS rates 

In December 2007 MTN Irancell launched reduced the GPRS tariffs upto march 2008. One Mb of traffic is on sale for about € 0,07. In the first week of the winter promotion the performance of the GPRS improved dramatically. GPRS worked perfectly in Esfahan, Shiraz, Bandar Busher, Bandar Langeh and Bandar Abas. Only in Esfahan and Bandar Abas there where a few spots in the city centre where the EDGE variant didn't work while GPRS did.
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