Publication Date: December 2023
Report Pages: 97
Analyst: Henry Lancaster
The outlook for Myanmar’s telecom sector – along with the prospects for the rest of the country – appear increasingly grim. A military coup in February 2021 reversed much of the progress made since the telecom market was liberalised in 2014. With one of the two privately-owned mobile operators being forced into a fire sale and a rapid exit (leaving more than 16 million subscribers’ communications exposed to scrutiny from the junta), there appears little chance of Myanmar returning to anywhere near the levels of growth and relative prosperity experienced during the decade of civilian rule.
Following the awarding of two new mobile licenses (to Qatar’s Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor Group) in 2014, the number of Myanmar’s mobile subscribers more than doubled over the following five years, exceeding a penetration rate above 120%, though since then growth has been more moderate.
Mobile broadband penetration followed a similar trajectory, with spectacular growth from a nascent market in 2013, to reaching a 90% penetration rate by 2017. The onset of the pandemic dampened the growth rate in 2020 and 2021, but it was the return to military law at the start of 2021 which really turned the situation on its head. The coup resulted in a complete shutdown of the internet for April of that year, while the junta’s soldiers also damaged infrastructure such as data centres. Additional tax burdens imposed as part of the Union Tax Law 2021, and charges for new SIM card registrations, have resulted in more expensive services for end-users, and stressed the finances of the key telcos Ooredoo Myanmar and Telenor Myanmar.
Before the coup took place, officials from the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) issued orders for the country’s telcos to install surveillance software (spyware) in their networks to allow the army to eavesdrop on the communications (both voice and data) of private citizens. While the government-backed operators MPT and Mytel were most likely to have complied, Ooredoo and Telenor resisted the demands. That led to the military banning the executives of the private operators from leaving the country, as well as threatening to rescind their mobile licenses. Rather than acceding to such demands, Telenor chose to withdraw from the market completely, largely writing off its business in a fire sale to Lebanon’s M1 Group.
Ooredoo Group delayed following suit until September 2022, when it announced an agreement to sell its local unit to Nine Communications (based in Singapore) for $576 million.
This report includes telcos' financial and operating data updates to December 2022, as well as Telecom Maturity Index charts and analyses, the ITU’s data updates to 2021, and recent market developments.
Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT), ATOM (Telenor Myanmar), Ooredoo Myanmar, Mytel.
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