They may not boast the star power of established tech titans such as Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard or emerging telecom players like China’s Huawei Technologies or ZTE. Yet a handful of small, high-tech companies from the Islamic Republic of Iran have come to the ITU Telecom World 2006 in Hong Kong to get noticed and do deals, according to Ali Fotowat Ahmadi, Managing Director of KavoshCom R&D Group based in Tehran.
Founded in 1991, KavoshCom is a technology consulting firm and chip design company. It’s also one of about 10 Iranian private companies attending the ITU confab for the first time. Ahmadi says Iran’s 70 million-plus population is rapidly embracing the digital age. “The Internet is growing like crazy and mobile phone use is growing like crazy,” he contends. Iran’s Internet user base is 12 million, while the number of mobile phone subscribers is nearly 10 million.
Iran does, however, face some big challenges in developing its telecom and IT sectors. Regulation at home is heavy-headed, according to Ahmadi. Then there is the fact that American companies are off limits as partners, thanks to a series of restrictions on general trade and investment imposed by Washington on Iran starting in 1987 and culminating into a near total embargo that took effect in 1997 and remains in full force today.
Ahmadi, who studied in the U.S. and holds a doctorate in engineering, thinks “America is missing the boat” by imposing sanctions that impact high tech investment. A big chunk of Iran’s engineering professors at elite universities such as Sharif Technical University received training in the U.S. and the country is full of “highly educated groups of young people.”
He also points out that the expansion of Internet chat rooms and mobile phone text messaging has created a more vibrant political system than is often realized outside of the country. “The flow of information has just been fantastic,” Ahmadi says. “It is very hard for the government to hide anything.”