Cheap SIM Cards Will Be Out Later This Month: Govt

By Thet Swe Aye 4 April 2013

RANGOON — Cellphone SIM cards costing as little as 1,500 kyat (US $2) will be available from April 24, state media reported on Thursday.

Initially, 350,000 cards will be distributed throughout the country. Users of the new service will have to spend at least 2,500 kyat ($3) per month in order to keep using the SIM cards.

Tin Win, a resident of Monywa in Sagaing Division, said until now rural communities might share one or two cellphones between an entire village.

Dr Aung Ko Ko, an economist, said the new SIM cards would strengthen the reform program, as it would allow better communication within the country for people with low incomes.

“The SIM cards should help develop all sectors of the economy and in all regions too,” he said.

Burma is still a largely agrarian society, with about 87 percent of poor people in the country living in the countryside. Many farmers have welcomed the new SIM cards.

But Win Thein, also from Monywa, told The Irrawaddy the low-cost SIM cards did not guarantee people could afford to use cellphones, because the hand sets were still too expensive.

Zaw Phon Myint, a cellphone user from Monywa, said network coverage is still unreliable.

“More phone terminals should be built to have an easy connection,” he said.

In the late 1990s, a company affiliated with the family of ex-Burmese dictator Ne Win first introduced the GSM network in Burma, selling SIM cards at around $3,300. Since the family’s arrest for an alleged coup attempt in 2002, the service has been under the control of the MPT.

The government’s telecommunication department has collaborated with companies owned by Burmese tycoon Tay Za, who has been blacklisted by US and European Union sanctions, to sell SIM cards. A July 2009 US Embassy cable published by WikiLeaks also said that Tay Za’s companies produced and sold the cards.

The cost of using a mobile phone in Burma has long been far higher than in neighboring countries, largely because of the monopoly held by the military-dominated MPT.