Can I stay connected to Internet when I travel to Iran? This could be one of your main concerns while planning a tour of the country. The short answer is ‘Yes’. You can definitely access internet services in Iran but it comes with certain limitations. Iran has a young and steadily growing population which currently stands at 80 million people. According to the latest official figures, there are 53.2 million mobile internet users and 11.7 million fixed internet subscribers in Iran.
These figures are unmatched in the Middle East thanks to the huge investment made by both the public and private sectors. The government has launched programs in recent years to make internet connection less expensive, fast and readily accessible for all Iranians. However, there is a strict filtering system in place. Various popular social media channels as well as online news outlets are not accessible in Iran. Many resort to virtual private networks (VPN services) to circumvent these limitations though it sometimes comes at the expense of internet speed.
In terms of connection speed, the situation is quite promising. The country ranked 47th among 136 countries in terms of average mobile internet connection speed according to Speedtest Global Index’s report in February 2019.
Connecting to Internet
Most of internet users in Iran are mobile internet subscribers. There are a few mobile network operators, including Hamrah-e-Aval, Irancell and RighTel, which offer 3G and 4G LTE services with a nationwide coverage.
There are also several internet service providers which offer ADSL home internet services across the country. However, as a traveler you most-likely will need mobile internet connection in Iran. This comes with the purchase of a SIM-card from any of the above-mentioned telecommunications companies. Their rates and services differ for data plans and you would better compare them before choosing one.
All the telecommunication companies, offer pre-paid SIM-cards with different data plans which you can buy easily. You just need to visit one of the authorized representative offices (you can also find them at airports) and fill out a registration form to purchase a SIM-card. You can later change your data plan or buy a new internet service online or through these offices. For instance, you can visit this page to know Irancell’s rates for different data plans. Additionally, Wi-Fi internet connection is available in most of hotels and cafes in major cities and the service is usually free of charge.
Popular Messaging and Social Media Apps
Iranians use Telegram and WhatsApp messaging applications extensively. Although Telegram is blocked in Iran, many people still prefer using the app, which has been marketed as ‘secure’, through a VPN. Instagram is also very popular in Iran with many companies and institutions having an account on the platform. Facebook and Twitter, which are blocked, are also widely used in Iran.
There is a strict internet filtering system in place in Iran. Authorities have blocked many social network channels, news outlets and websites for failing to adhere to the country’s rules. News websites including bbc.com and washingtonpost.com are not accessible in Iran. You cannot also access social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as Telegram and Viber messaging apps in Iran. Video sharing platform YouTube and internet entertainment service Netflix are also inaccessible.
In addition to the domestic filtering system, certain international websites have restricted the use of their services for Iranian users. For instance, you cannot use international banking sites and payment systems like PayPal with an Iranian IP due to sanctions.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Many Iranians get around blocked websites using a VPN service. Technically speaking a virtual private network gives you privacy and anonymity by setting up a private network from a public internet connection.
VPNs are becoming increasingly popular in Iran where they serve as an essential companion for average internet users.
You need a trusted VPN client on your device to circumvent the filtering and navigate the online world.