Market studies, business cases, strategy workshops and due diligence delivered to MTN Irancell and MTN Group from 2005 to 2013 while a management consultant and mobile telco specialist with Mobile Market Development Ltd. (2003–2014).

"Ajay is a well organised consultant who is capable of and has successfully managed multiple projects. He pro-actively provides his candid view on matters thereby ensuring all angles are covered during projects."

Everywhere you go.

Irancell is MTN Group's mobile network operator in Iran, launched in 2006 and now has 49 million customers.

MTN Group is a mobile network operator group originating from South Africa, serving over 235 million customers in 22 countries across Africa and the Middle East.

2006: pent-up demand for mobile services, which were 2G (9.6 Kbps GPRS), expensive and supply-constrained by the state-owned incumbent. Over half of Iran's 80 million population is under 30 years old.

Challenging market conditions. Not just international sanctions: tough geography; a wealthy, politically-powerful incumbent, and significant revenue rake by the government as a license condition.

Irancell changed everything in 2007, launching prepaid mobile services with 'townstorms', extensive marketing campaigns, and a vibrant, international brand.

Planning for a new competitor.

A third market entrant was expected when the telecoms regulator announced the auction of a new mobile operator license. This would be the country's first 3G UMTS license with exclusivity for two years.

A new operator launching with advanced 3G services was a key concern. I travelled to Tehran in July 2008 to work with Irancell's marketing, network ops & regulatory teams to identify companies that might bid.

Primary and secondary research. Developed and populated a balanced scorecard model to assess the candidates' capabilities and competitive potential.

International research missions. As other strong candidates emerged, we cast a wider primary research net in late-2009. I went to Kenya and Jordan and met with retailers, network operator managers and market analysts in Nairobi and Amman. Colleagues travelled to Nigeria, Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Etisalat was announced as the license winner alongside an Iranian partner company, Tamin Telecom, in January 2009. We produced a report assessing Etisalat's capabilities: market entry case studies; analysis of customer acquisition tactics, and hurdles to entering the Iranian market competitively.

A deal undone. Etisalat and its Iranian partner could not conclude contractual arrangements, and Etisalat was ejected from the agreement in favour of a domestic partner. The new consortium launched services and the 'RighTel' brand in 2011.

Planning for the incumbent.

Iran's state-owned telecoms companies were privatised in 2009. The fixed line, mobile and ISP businesses floated on Tehran's stock exchange. At the time, Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI) was the Middle East's largest telecoms operator by customer base.

Prepared a report on TCI's future under its new owners detailing the privatisation process and timetable, scenarios for products and services development, and recommendations prioritised by probability and impact.

Strategy Workshops.

Working with Irancell's Chief Marketing Officers on pricing, product and operating strategy problems. The research, reports and cases produced 2008–2009 developed into a programme of workshops delivered at MTN International's headquarters in Dubai (2010–2013).

Analogous mobile markets. Identified three mobile markets directly comparable to Iran's but at different stages of maturity: Pakistan, Turkey and Spain. Facilitated sessions on the branding, pricing and go-to-market strategies of operators in those markets.

I built a Television Commercials Showcase for Irancell. As YouTube and other video sites outside Iran are frequently blocked, I developed a standalone web app to showcase competitors' TV commercials. Videos can be replayed without an Internet connection, and became a valuable resource for Irancell's marketing department.

How does Irancell stay competitive? Identified tactics and course corrections to align Irancell's brand, sales & distribution, products and services with the market, local opco and wider MTN Group objectives.

Known unknowns. We identified, analysed and prioritised headwinds and tailwinds during scenario planning sessions.

Impact Assessment for Over The Top (OTT) operators. OTTs like WhatsApp, Skype and Facebook Messenger have low entry barriers, good customer experience and are a consistent threat to operators' core messaging and voice revenues. We assessed the threats and opportunities for Irancell.

LTE Market Entry Strategy.

Ready to leap from 2G to 4G LTE. With the new competitor's 3G network launch imminent, I worked with MMD colleagues to advise Irancell on how other network operators launched LTE services: market sizes; launch pricing; equipment availability and vendor profiles; the nature of products, services and applications, uptake and profitability.

Irancell received a nationwide 4G LTE license in 2015. The reports, presentations, cases and correspondence helped Irancell build the case for upgrading its 2G license to 3G. Irancell launched a 3G network in September 2014, and then became the country's first operator to receive a 4G LTE license. Commercial LTE services commenced in November 2014.

'Project V'.

Business cases and go-to-market plans for unannounced, integrated, multi-country product/service. Research of adjacent and non-telco sectors to formulate market entry strategies for delivering MTN's brand promise, 'Everywhere You Go.'

Business cases for telco products and services.

Irancell's ICT Services Portfolio. ICT services portfolios are a priority for MTN Group. With an MMD colleague, I conducted an international study of mobile network operators' information and technology services portfolios. Irancell assessed these opportunities and the feasibility of delivering themselves or with a local partner.

WiMAX. Irancell won licenses to build and operate fixed WiMAX services in six provinces. We produced a study of other WiMAX operators' strategies in markets where WiMAX coexists with other fast wireless technologies.


Irancell wanted to examine the domestic data market to identify opportunities for product diversification, improve margins and efficiency, and address operational risks around bandwidth and backhaul.

I met with Irancell in Tehran in December 2008 to shortlist the candidates, agree Letters of Intent, sign non-disclosure agreements and set up the due diligence meetings.

I interviewed officers from the candidate companies in Tehran a few weeks later, received and discussed the evidence we requested, and developed the shortlist of target companies.

We liked two candidates, but a joint venture with one was more achievable than an acquisition, and a better outcome for Irancell.

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