The new regulator, Davari Nejad, is a telecommunications deputy minister. His first task will be to assemble a board, in which both the public and private sector may be represented, say ministry officials. Nejad’s appointment paves the way for the release of tender documents for Iran’s second GSM licence. The ministry aims to have an operator in place by March 2004 and says a tender will be issued soon.

However, foreign telcos have expressed concern at the limited level of regulatory independence. ‘This is certainly one of the obstacles towards liberalisation,’ says the local representative of a foreign supplier. ‘We feel that there is an unfair advantage being used by the monopoly holder.’

The prepaid GSM licence will be pushed forward more quickly. Seven consortia remain in the race after two bidders were disqualified. TCI has stated that only the existing network suppliers – Germany’s Siemens, Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia– can supply equipment for the project.

The prepaid project will involve the installation of 2 million new GSM lines over the first year of the contract, with a further 4 million to be installed in the following two years. The BOT contract will terminate after 10 years.

TCI is also planning a conventional expansion programme to help meet its target of boosting GSM subscriptions from 2 million to 20 million over the next five years. A tender for 1 million new GSM lines for Tehran is to be issued soon.