MTN Irancell continues with plan to exit Iran’s telecom sector
MTN Group has been spooked by the difficult operating environments in several Middle Eastern states, including Yemen, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. The Group plans to exit these markets and focus on its business units in Africa, a region which promises more rewarding returns on investment. However, the Group has a medium-term plan for Iran, and its exit may not be completed for a few years yet. Sanctions and Iran’s hyperinflationary economy have been central to the difficulties faced by MTN Irancell. Since 2018, the Group has been prevented from transferring abroad the profits from this unit. However, renewed efforts by the Iranian government to remove sanctions may enable MTN to repatriate cash owed to it in loan repayments and dividends.
More broadly, operators in Iran have invested in improving the reach and capacity of their LTE networks. After some delay, both MCI and MTN Irancell were able to launch 5G services in the first half of 2021. To tackle the lack of available spectrum, the regulator has set aside for auction spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for 5G use. The wider reach of 5G will support the government’s efforts to improve the scale of the digital economy in coming years.