Competition arrives in Myanmar’s restructured telecom sector: what next?
Throughout 2012 and into 2013 major changes have been taking place in Myanmar’s telecom sector. The government’s plans to liberalise the market have certainly moved quickly. The initial round of reforms has seen action on the issuing of a series of new telecom operating licences, allowing international companies to form joint ventures with the government to build infrastructure and to offer services. The changes coincided with wider reforms being pursued by a government that had come to power in Myanmar in 2011 after many years of rule by the military. Among other things, the new government has announced some ambitious growth targets. Whilst it is generally agreed that the reform project had made a good start, by mid-2013 there remained much work to be done to bring the country’s telecom sector up to speed.
Over the last year or so, the international telecom community has shown unprecedented interest in this emerging market. The issuing of new mobile licences in mid-2013 took place as scheduled and saw two foreign players chosen to enter the market and help the country achieve its growth targets. These two companies have moved quickly into a post-tender phase where they began negotiating details of their respective concessions with the government and started planning their respective rollouts. In the meantime, as part of Myanmar’s market reform, the state-owned incumbent telecom operator Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) is slated for ‘dismantling’; this will probably see it as an operator working without government funding, most probably in joint venture with an experienced telecom partner.
In the meantime the country has many problems to address. It is still struggling with the legacy of those years spent under the military junta. The telecommunications sector has long been dominated by the state-owned monopoly telephone service provider. With the military government’s conservative approach to structural reform, it was not surprising that MPT continued to maintain its monopoly over the telecom sector, long being the sole national telephone network operator. In another legacy consideration, the dispersion of network infrastructure has been heavily biased towards the cities, with Yangon and Mandalay having relatively large telephone penetrations compared to the rural areas. By 2012 most villages in Myanmar were still without a fixed-line telephone service.
For a long time, foreign investment in the telecom sector continued to be low, due to the political situation in Myanmar, the structure of the country’s telecom industry and the general state of the economy, this also being despite the government’s attempts to increase foreign interest. Of course, with the 2012 reforms this certainly looks as if it will change dramatically; apart from the commitment made by the two new mobile operators, other foreign operators have also committed to or expressed interest in investing in the reformed market.
Whilst the round of major reforms announced in 2012 offer great hope for Myanmar’s telecom sector, as already noted there remains much to be done and many problems to resolve in order to develop and improve the overall market.
- Myanmar’s mobile market has rapidly expand over the last five years, at least in relative terms;
- There was a particularly strong surge in 2012;
- Of course, this mobile subscriber growth has been from a low base and although figures are contradictory, mobile penetration was still low into 2013;
- Fixed-line subscriber numbers have been growing erratically (published figures have been revised downwards); overall penetration remains low;
- Internet penetration also remained low, although the numbers had started to rapidly increase in 2013/2013;
- Fixed broadband services were small in number, one positive being the progressive introduction of a variety of platforms, including mobile broadband and WiMAX services;
- The number of mobile broadband subscribers jumped dramatically in 2013;
- On the regulatory front 2012 saw a major move to liberalise the market and this process has continued through 2013 and into 2014;
- The initial round of proposed reforms saw two new operating licences issued in June 2013, for the first time allowing international companies to enter the market and to offer telecom services;
- The earlier call for expressions of interest had seen an overwhelming response from foreign telecom operators interested in entering the Myanmar market;
- Qatar’s Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor were the winners of the bidding process;
- Ooredoo was the first to launch, offering a mobile service to a large part of Myanmar in August 2014;
- There were still signs of ‘old behaviour’ in the market place reminiscent of the days under full military rule; this is certain to challenge the new regulatory environment.
Note: Reporting on the Myanmar telecom market continues to rely to a large extent on estimated figures as official information is either not available or has been found to be contradictory.
Myanmar (Burma) - key telecom parameters – 2012 - 2014
|Subscriber penetration (population)|
|Fixed subscriber penetration (population)|
|Subscriber penetration (population)|