2007 Asia - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband in Myanmar and Thailand

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Last updated: 24 Apr 2007 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 147

Analyst: Stephen McNamara

Publication Overview

This report provides a comprehensive overview of the trends and developments in telecommunications, broadcasting and pay TV markets in Myanmar and Thailand. Subjects covered include:

  • Key Statistics
  • Market and Industry Overviews
  • Regulatory Environment
  • Major Players (fixed and mobile)
  • Infrastructure
  • Mobile Voice and Data Markets
  • Internet, VoIP, IPTV
  • Broadband (FttH, DSL, cable TV, wireless)
  • Convergence and Digital Media

Executive Summary

This Annual Publication: Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband in Asia – Myanmar and Thailand, profiles two of the countries of South East Asia. The neighbouring countries of Thailand and Myanmar provide an interesting contrast. Similar in population size and land area, the two countries have been developing along totally different economic paths. Thailand, a constitutional monarchy, which has struggled at times with its democratic processes, has offered an essentially open market. Myanmar on the other hand has been under the repressive hand of a military dictatorship for many years now and its market remains totally closed and centrally controlled. GDP per capita in Thailand is running at around US$3,000; in Myanmar it is a little over US$200. The development of their respective telecom sectors reflects the same divide. In mobile and Internet penetrations Thailand leaves Myanmar far behind. Even in fixed-line services, Myanmar is seriously lagging the Thais.

Operating in an economy where change is very slow, Myanmar’s telecommunications sector continues to be dominated by the state-owned monopoly telephone service provider, Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). The country is battling both economic problems and a troubled political climate. Soaring inflation continues to be a major problem. The country’s centrally planned economy is plagued by weak fiscal and monetary management, resulting in major economic imbalances, which are not likely to be easily or quickly resolved. These problems, combined with a disturbing lack of transparency, have naturally frightened off foreign investment. In the meantime, the country’s telecommunications is characterised by what can only be described as stunted growth, see Table 1. The telecom sector really reflects the overall state of the national economy. At the same time, Myanmar’s official economic data is not considered reliable, making actual growth rates difficult to ascertain. However, it is reasonably evident that fixed telephone line penetration remains a lowly 1%, mobile services are prohibitively expensive and limited, and Internet access continues to be problematic, being severely restricted in its availability to the general public. The government has simply been unable to help the struggling MPT to generate any serious level of capital investment in telecoms infrastructure.

The overthrow of the Thailand’s Shinawatra government in a military coup in September 2006 has, not surprisingly, had considerable impact on the Thai economy and on the administration of the country. For the telecom sector this has been significant with the appointment by the post-coup government of a Minister for Information and Communication Technology who has taken a strong position against what were seen as Thaksin Shinawatra’s telecom reforms. The new minister, for example, wanted to roll back the process of privatisation of the two state-owned telcos, TOT and CAT; further to this, he wanted to restore some of their regulatory powers. The general reaction in the industry was that such moves were regressive.

Despite all this, Thailand’s telecom sector has continued to exhibit a lot of energy. Building on the last 5 or so years, the country’s mobile telephone market in particular has continued to record strong annual growth rates. By early 2007, mobile penetration was around 57%. This was a ten-fold increase since 2000. The country has certainly been seeing the benefits of a liberalised market. But tardiness in implementing key changes has seen the country’s new regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), not come into being until late 2004 – a long time after the enabling Telecommunications Act was adopted as law in 2000. Having become operational, the NTC had started to get up to speed when the 2006 coup took place, again throwing uncertainty over the regulator’s role. One area of the market that has been particularly popular in Thailand for some years is Internet. For a number of reasons, however, broadband Internet access has been languishing. In the 2005, however, the number of broadband subscribers began to surge and this continued into 2006/07. While broadband penetration remains low at just under 1%, the market is now clearly on the move.

Key highlights

  • Thailand’s mobile market was approaching 40 million subscribers in early 2007. After more than six straight years of strong growth, the annual increase in the mobile subscriber numbers was still running at over 20%.
  • The 2006 year saw another surge in Thailand’s broadband Internet market with subscriber growth running at an annual rate of around 100%. Interest in broadband services was finally picking up; but all this was happening from a relatively tiny base and broadband penetration remained low (1% penetration).
  • Despite a slowing of economic growth following the September 2006 coup, the post-coup government, after a number of missteps, was working hard to stimulate the economy, looking to such initiatives as free trade agreements.
  • In Myanmar, mobile services reportedly grew at a strong annual rate in excess of 100% in 2006, albeit from a tiny base. The subscriber numbers moved from 126,000 (0.3% penetration) in 2005 to 269,000 (6% penetration) in 2007. Further information on this growth has been difficult to access. It is therefore hard to judge whether this growth pattern will continue.
  • From totally different perspectives both Thailand and Myanmar must seriously address regulatory reform. Thailand needs to work to get fresh momentum in its stalled reform processes; Myanmar needs to get some sort of reform process started. The latter has a long way to go.

Mobile, fixed-line and Internet penetration – 2006

Country Mobile penetration Fixed-line penetration Internet* penetration
Myanmar 0.6% 0.9% 0.03%
Thailand 57% 11% 8%
Source: BuddeComm
Note:*subscriber penetration.

Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.

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