Many Burmese Will Have to Wait for Ooredoo Network

By Yen Saning 4 August 2014

RANGOON — Qatari telecommunications firm Ooredoo launched its 1,500 kyat (US$1.50) SIM cards here on Saturday, ending years of waiting for affordable and fast mobile phone and Internet services—for some.

Ooredoo’s official commercial launch date is Aug. 15, but SIM cards are already being sold offering limited, but free, services. Norwegian company Telenor is expected to launch competing SIM cards sometime next month.

“We are providing a standard high-definition voice. That means when you are talking to somebody with an Ooredoo Myanmar phone, you will have crystal clear voice communication,” Ross Cormack, Ooredoo Myanmar CEO said during a press conference in Rangoon on Saturday.

“You will enjoy fast internet. Everywhere we have coverage, you will have fast internet.”

Sales are currently limited to only Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw and from Aug. 15, a total of 68 towns and cities, mainly in central Burma and including Prome, Meikhtila and Magwe, will be able to use Ooredoo’s services.

Ooredoo Myanmar said the network will reach 25 million people in 450 cities by the end of the year. Farther flung places including Magwe Division, Sagaing Division, Irrawaddy Division, parts of Pegu Division, Karen State and Mon State should get coverage before next year, according to the company.

However, it is not clear when the network will reach the more remote parts of Burma, and the rest of the estimated 60 million people living in the country. Both Ooredoo and Telenor, as part of the license agreements they were awarded after a tender last year, are tasked with building nationwide telecommunications infrastructure where before there was practically none.

Cormack said that while coverage in Naypyidaw and Mandalay was already “perfect” the country’s biggest city, Rangoon, was not yet comprehensively covered by the network.

Some users have already taken to social media to complain about apparent delays activating their SIMs, weak reception and incompatible phones.

Ooredoo said customers can check whether their phone is compatible with its network using an application on its website.

Other users complained that the cost of Internet data—25 kyat per megabyte (MB)—was high, compared with the state-run firm Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT), which charges about 2 kyat per minute, albeit for a slow connection.

“I want to say: Test and use it first,” countered Myint Zaw, Ooredoo Myanmar’s national sales director.

“We are charging by MB, which is volume based. Even though it costs only 2 kyat per minute in [MPT’s] time-based pricing, time is wasted waiting for loading, which can take 10 minutes. I just want to say not to worry much for this. We have other promotion packages coming up.”