MPT Charity Auction Held for Vanity Phone Numbers

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 21 December 2015

RANGOON — There was a touch of nostalgia in Burma over the weekend after Myanma Posts and Telecommunications auctioned off mobile SIM cards for thousands of dollars apiece.

Saturday’s auction by the state-owned telco for 126 vanity phone numbers netted MPT more than 300 million kyats (US$230,500), including a single bid of 22 million kyats ($16,900) for a number with seven recurring digits.

“MPT’s commercial department organized this auction after forming a joint venture with a Japanese company, it’s kind of a business strategy,” said Chit Wai, deputy permanent secretary of Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

A total of 164 buyers attended the auction, for which MPT said the auction raised three times as much money as the firm had expected. The proceeds will be donated to the Phaung Daw Oo monastic school in Mandalay and to fund solar lighting installations in other monastic schools.

During military rule, local SIM cards cost upwards of $1,500. Since the Burmese government’s 2012 telecommunications reforms and the subsequent entrance of foreign competitors into the sector, retail prices have crashed down to around 1,500 kyats ($1.15). The Communications Ministry says that 28.1 million SIMs were in service by the end of March, more than half of the total population of Burma.

Vanity phone numbers with recurring digits are a sought after commodity in other parts of the region. In Cambodia, for instance, vendors typically charge more for SIM cards attached to phone number with recurring instances of the number eight, which is considered lucky in numerous Asian cultures.

Those who made winning bids have until Dec. 28 to make good on their pledges at the Myanma Economic Bank and collect their SIM cards from the MPT office in downtown Rangoon.