‘We had first meetings with four interested parties in mid April,’ a PTT Ministry official told MEED on 29 April. ‘However, there has been strong interest from other potential advisers as well. The selection of a consultant is now our priority.’

It is understood that the preliminary meeting in Tehran was attended by PricewaterhouseCoopers, BNP Paribas, HSBC Investment Bankand a European company identified as EPD.

The contract to operate a second GSM network is expected to be awarded within months of the appointment of the financial adviser. The GSM licence will cover the installation and operation of 4 million new cellular lines. At present, there are 1.2 million mobile phone subscribers in Iran.

An international tender for the expansion of Tehran’s existing mobile phone network, which is operated by PTT Ministry affiliate Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI), is set to be issued later this year.

The project will see the installation of 3 million lines across the country. The UK’s Aircom Internationalis the consultant on the project. Aircom is to carry out an analysis of Tehran’s mobile network and to prepare specifications for the upcoming tender.

The PTT Ministry official says plans are also on track for the launch of the country’s first pre-paid services. The project will be tendered before mid 2002 and will call for the installation of 2 million mobile phone lines.

The project will be carried out on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis for a period of 10-15 years.

According to plans announced by PTT Minister Ahmad Motamedi last year, the number of mobile phone subscribers is set to rise to 10 million by 2004.

The establishment of an independent regulatory authority will be another milestone in the programme to reform the telecoms sector. Industry sources say the new body is likely to be set up before the award of the second GSM licence.