VIRTUAL SUCCESS

Iran 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Seyed Houshang Mortazavi, CEO & Member of the Board of SamanTel, on entering the telecoms sector, obtaining market share, and the outlook for the year ahead.

Seyed Houshang Mortazavi
BIOGRAPHY
Seyed Houshang Mortazavi is the CEO and Member of the Board of SamanTel. He has vast experience in the telecoms industry, including as VP of Taliya, VP of Mobinnet, Head of Maintenance and advisor to the CEO at RightTel, and General Manager and Head of the Board of Telecommunication Company Hormozgaan. He received his bachelor’s degree in telecommunications engineering and his master’s degree in management.

SamanTel is part of Saman Financial Group. Why did the group decide to enter the telecommunications sector?

SamanTel is not the first company in the Saman Financial Group operating outside the financial sector; we have other companies involved in satellites to enable communications between different banks. However, SamanTel is the group's first company to enter the high-tech ICT and mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) fields. The reason the bank entered this market is to bring the next level of services to its customers, because the next generation of the financial sector is dependent on ICT. For Saman Financial Group, covering the entire ecosystem is a crucial factor.

SamanTel's vision is to offer basic and value-added services to the IT and telecoms fields. How are you implementing this vision?

The main focus of the company is to bring core and value-added services to customers; however, the value-added services will come in different phases for customers. The first one we have focused on is financial value-added services, whereby we are implementing well-developed wallets for our customers. In the future we might enter into blockchain implementation. The first phase is addressing certain value-added financial services, and we will then enter other sectors and domains. One of SamanTel's goals is to be a pioneer and innovator in value-added services.

Many other foreign and domestic companies have already expressed an interest in becoming MVNO service providers in Iran. What are your competitive advantages here?

One of the main competitive advantages we have is the ecosystem the Saman Financial Group has created from its insurance company through to its investment company, a satellite enabling company, and the bank itself; this ecosystem is unique and complete. No other existing party in Iran has such modules in one ecosystem with one director. Another competitive advantage of SamanTel is our team, with people who are well developed in the ICT markets. The telecommunications market is not very large in Iran, with just three or four mobile network operators (MNOs) to date. There are thus not that many people in the industry in Iran. The team at SamanTel has been gathered from those operators and knows very well how to conduct the business of a mobile operator. Around 50 companies have expressed an interest in becoming an MVNO operator in Iran; however, many of them have already been eliminated from the list. There are various stages involved in getting a license and it is hard to get one. Each step in the process requires many different things in terms of financials, the team, infrastructure, and the contract with the MNO.

What is your strategy to obtain market share in this increasingly competitive market?

At this stage no company can say with certainty it will be the greatest player in the market. However, we can rely on our unique ecosystem and IT infrastructure. Being a mobile operator in Iran requires the approval of the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA), and there is a similar regulatory authority for banks, namely the Central Bank of Iran. There are two regulatory bodies here trying not to infringe on each other's markets too much. For example, mobile operators in Iran seek to enter into the field of virtual financial wallets, which the central bank seeks to prevent from happening. Therefore, such regulations in Iran force Saman Bank to have a mobile operator. This puts Saman Financial Group in a unique position because it has a banking license as well as an operator's license. Together we can bring different value-added services to the market. There are not many companies in Iran that have both licenses.

What is your outlook for the year ahead?

We have a full MVNO license, which is an important platform for technical implementation in terms of having the infrastructure and the operations side in place. At this stage we are just in the starting phase of establishing everything. In the next two years we will still be in the initial stage of making sure everything works together smoothly. Later, after that start-up phase we will be able to say we are an established operator and can start forecasting other business prospects. Also with our Wi-Fi technology and know-how, we are eager to provide these services in the Middle East region. With this technology we are not limiting ourselves to MNO functions. We will be able to provide different services in certain areas and in different countries as part of SamanTel's network with cooperation inside other countries. We are talking about everything over Wi-Fi, including voice services and data.