Since the lifting of the sanctions, MTN has repatriated around 893 million euros of its money from Iran. The company is also investing heavily in Iran’s telecom infrastructure.
Extracting money from Iran was a headache before the lifting of the sanction. In 2016, MTN repatriated 425 million euros from MTN Irancell, this money was due to the loan advanced for the license fee in 2005. In late 2016, the operational dividends of the last five years were paid by MTN Irancell, totaling 468 million euros. This brings the total repatriation to 893 million euros. In 2015, MTN converted a portion of the dividends due to an interest-bearing loan of 135 million euros. This loan is due for settlement on 30 September 2017. This will substantially close the matter on the long outstanding payments from MTN Irancell.
Iran is one of the most important markets for MTN
MTN’s e-commerce offerings recorded mixed results in 2016. The company experienced slower growth in its African businesses mainly due to Nigeria’s weak economy which was balanced by the entry into new markets like Morocco and Ivory Coast. The Middle East business reported double-digit monthly growth in revenue and customer numbers across all business lines. MTN’s Iranian e-commerce business, which is one of the market leaders, gained momentum based on favorable demographics and the economic revival of Iran.
While a slowing economy and associated currency volatility in Nigeria and Egypt will affect Africa Internet Holding (AIH) and Middle East Internet Holding (MEIH), Iran Internet Group (IIG) is expected to benefit from improving GDP growth in Iran. The growth in Iran following the easing of sanctions offers significant opportunities to expand, particularly in digital services.
MTN Irancell performance in 2016
MTN Irancell delivered a strong performance despite regulatory pressure on data tariffs. The number of subscribers increased by 3.2% to 47.6 million mainly as a result of competitive segmented voice and data offerings, including data bundles, and the superior quality of 3G and LTE networks. MTN Irancell’s total revenue in 2016 increased by 12.8%, driven by increased data revenue growth. Outgoing voice revenue also declined by 0.7%, affected by data services. Data revenue increased by 58.8% by optimization of data bundles, modernization of 2G and 3G sites and expansion of the LTE network.
Smartphone penetration in Iran remains the highest across MTN’s footprint with MTN Irancell recording 26.1 million smartphones on the network at the end of 2016. Currently, there are more than 48 million smartphones in Iran. Data revenue contributed 42% to total revenue while outgoing voice revenue contributed 37%. Digital revenue contributed 30% to data revenue, supported by an increase in local content-based usage.
Furthermore, the repatriation of money from MTN Irancell is expected to be normalized. MTN expects growth in the Iranian economy and it seeks to expand its services, particularly in the digital space in order to further benefit from MTN’s strong position and the youthful population in the country. One of these projects would be Iran’s national fiber optic project.
MTN would invest 750 million dollars in Iran’s national fiber optic project
According to the local news agency, CITNA, MTN has agreed to invest 300 million dollars in the Iranian fixed broadband provider, Iranian Net, and lend the company 450 million dollars as well. On May, Rob Shuter, CEO of MTN, signed an agreement in Tehran with Iran’s ICT Minister after months of discussion about the company entering the fixed-line Internet market.
MTN expects to invest 300 million dollars in the form of equity and an additional $450 million in loans to help Iranian Net meet its targets over the next five years. According to Mahmoud Vaezi, 90% of the negotiation has been done and soon the project would kick off.