Out of a total population of 81.59 million, 56.70 million are internet users (penetration rate is 69 percent), 40 million are active social media users (49 percent), mobile connections are 125.9 million (154 percent), active mobile social media users are 40 million (49 percent). This information is provided in a snapshot of the country’s key digital statistical indicators published by the Canadian platform Hootsuite using data available from UN and CIA statistics.
The main telecommunication companies in Iran are MCI (also known as Hamrah-e Aval, meaning the "First Companion"), Irancell and RighTel. The two companies competing for being leader in the market are MCI and Irancell, while RighTel is stable at the third place. The companies provide a wide range of offers, but end-prices are almost the same. The main difference is on coverage: MCI has a South African participation (and thus non-Iranian technology) and has more coverage and for this reason it is perceived to be the best operator. Irancell is currently buying more cell towers to catch up with the competitor.
Founded in 1992, MCI is a subsidiary of the Telecommunication Company of Iran. It has expanded its 3G and 4G networks which were introduced in 2015 and now has coverage in all 1,246 Iranian cities, the first operator to achieve such result. MCI has 47 million active users out of the country’s 80 million people and is currently the largest operator in Iran. Since January 2018, its CEO is Hamid Farhang. Employees are 5,000. The services provided to subscribers are call transfer, call waiting, caller ID, FDN services, call restriction, fax connection, data services, SMS and VMS systems, and international roaming. Its network is available in 1,239 cities in Iran, as well as in 112 foreign countries due to contracts with 271 partner operators. MCI is quoted on the Tehran Stock Exchange since August 2013. In April 2014 it was valued US$4.3bn. Up to 90 percent of MCI’s shares are currently owned by the Telecommunication Company of Iran, and the remaining 10 percent of shares are public at the Tehran Stock Exchange. In 2015, MCI launched 3G, and 4G technologies by the new brand Notrino.
Second comes Irancell. Launched in 2005, its CEO is still Alireza Ghalambor Dezfouli. It has two shareholders: 51 percent is owned by Iran Electronic Development Company (IEDC, which is owned by the religious foundation Bonyad Mostazafan and by Iran Electronics Industries which also signed military contracts) and 49 percent by MTN International (Mauritius) Limited. Despite international sanctions, Irancell is said to have been able to obtain US technology. In July 2013 Iranian authorities have indicted Irancell on charges of insulting Sunni Muslims in an SMS competition. The company reportedly asked subscribers: “Which judge was deceived by the Devil during the time of [the first Shia Imam] Imam Ali?” The second choice offered was Omar. A prominent Sunni leader in Sistan Baluchistan lodged a formal complaint against Irancell and called on his followers to boycott the company. In the indictment, Irancell has been accused of ‘‘violating unity between Shia and Sunnis.’’ In December 2014 Irancell doubled its prices. In July 2016 it was under attack for the leakage of privacy data. In November 2017, it was again on the news, when the Minister of Communication Mohammad Javad Jahromi criticised its ads injections through its subscribers.
The third-largest telecommunication operator on the Iranian market is RighTel. Founded in 2011, it is owned by the Social Security Organisation of Iran, a state entity that has large stakes in several domestic banks. RighTel has more than 3,000 employees. In 2016, it associated with AT&T to provide roaming services to owners of American phones inside Iran. According to The New York Times, “The agreement is one of the few signs that the promises President Hassan Rouhani made long ago of welcoming Western businesses and ending Iran’s isolation are at last beginning to be realised.” However, the article concludes, “It remains unclear how AT&T and RighTel will settle accounts.” According to the telecommunication, market, research and consulting firm TeleGeography, “The agreement is a sign of a thaw in relations between the two countries following the lifting of international economic and trade sanctions against Iran in January 2016.”