The exploitation of cell phone systems in Iran started in 1994, when 176 transmitters and receivers were installed in 24 stations serving 9,200 cell phone numbers. The high demand of subscribers forced the Iranian authorities to extend the coverage and facilities. By March 2006, the number of cell phone subscribers increased to 15,907. In addition to Tehran, coverage was provided for Mashhad, Ahwaz, Tabriz, Isfahan and Shiraz. As a general rule, 4G is available in big cities and 3G in mid-sized ones, while there's very basic coverage in rural places, if at all.
In recent years, Iran’s mobile networks coverage has increased, reaching the whole of the territory and population. Official statistics updated to September 2019 show that until the first half of this year, 176 million Sim cards were handed out by mobile operators and more than 115 millions of them are active. The abovementioned operators compete for the Iranian market. The latest official statistics show that Hamrah-e Aval (MCI) is the first operator with a share of 48.10 percent of the market. Irancell comes second and owns 46.36 percent of the market. Third comes RighTel, which only 5.55 percent. MCI has the first mobile penetration rate 73.17 percent, Irancell is in the second place with 60% and RighTel is in the third place with 6%.
When it comes to broadband services, MCI was the last of the three to upgrade its services to 3G and 4G. However, in a short period of time this operator was successful to provide these services in all cities. Irancell, also covers more than 220 cities, villages and routes with 4G and more than 3,000 cities, villages and routes with 3G. This operator also announced that it is offering 4.5G services in more than 390 cities. Statistics show a wide gap in providing broadband services to rural areas: MCI covers a total of 45.000 villages, Irancell 17,631 and RighTel only 65.
According to the Wikia.com website, in the Isfahan governorate there is an operator called MTCE which offers only 2G services and has coverage only in that area. TKC has coverage only in Kish Island on 2G only. Taliya is another operator only on 2G for voice, text and data.
Since Iran is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world and exposed to various types of natural hazards (earthquakes, drought, floods and sand and dust storms), mobile networks often become the only way to communicate. At the same time, when some infrastructures get damaged, some areas become excluded as a consequence.