MTN-Bharti plans could be hit by Iran mobile clampdown

June 24th, 2009 - 5:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Facebook Johannesburg, June 24 (IANS) Plans by South African mobile giant MTN and India’s Bharti Airtel to form a huge network straddling Asia, Africa and the Middle East could be affected by Iran’s blockage of mobile network signals in the wake of the ongoing strife there.
Analysts estimate that MTN stood to lose at least a month’s revenue in Iran, the company’s third largest market, but the telecom giant declined to comment on its operations in that country.

“MTN has no comment regarding its operations in Iran at this stage,” group Nozipho January-Bardill told the daily Times here.

MTN has a 49 percent stake in MTN Irancell, serving about 16 million Iranian subscribers on a network covering more than 60 percent of the country.

In the wake of large-scale protests against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian government has clamped down on electronic media disseminating information on the protests to international recipients.

This includes the popular social networking sites Facebook and Twitter as well as cellular networks.

Analysts told Times that MTN was expected to continue its silent approach, as it had done in other politically unstable economies such as Sudan.

“MTN will want to keep the government happy since Iran is one of its biggest markets, and they would rather lose market share than be kicked out altogether,” said Lindsey McDonald, an ICT analyst with consultancy Frost and Sullivan.

“That’s the company’s style; it doesn’t get involved in local politics; that’s why it can enter such high-risk countries,” added Dennis Smit, managing director of research house BMI-T.

“Some people say it is crazy, but MTN is making a lot of money. It’ll just keep quiet about it as it’s always done,” Smit added.

There was also a view that MTN would not stop its rollout and capital expenditure in Iran or bring back expatriate staff unless there was any violence involved.

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