Ooredoo SIM Cards Go on Limited Sale in Burma

By Yen Saning 30 July 2014

RANGOON — Some shops in Mandalay have already begun selling a limited number of Ooredoo SIM cards, as the Qatari company remains tight-lipped about when its mobile phone cards will go on general sale.

The sale of affordable SIM cards has been hotly awaited since Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor were named as the winners of a competitive tender last year to become the first private firms to offer mobile phone services in Burma. The two companies enter the market alongside state-owned company Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT), which has so far only distributed limited numbers of SIM cards through lotteries, fueling a black market for the sought-after cards.

Ooredoo Myanmar spokeswoman Thiri Kyar Nyo said she could not confirm when Ooredoo SIM cards were going on sale nationwide. All would be revealed at a press conference in Rangoon on Saturday, she said.

But a photographer for The Irrawaddy in Mandalay has seen mobile shops and vendors selling the SIMs since Tuesday, and numerous social media posts have shown people buying the cards. Local media reported that phone shops in Naypyidaw were also selling the SIM cards.

Phone shop workers in Mandalay, who declined to be named, told The Irrawaddy that SIM cards had been distributed to shops ready for an official launch on Saturday, but some shops in Burma’s second city had already started selling them.

Mobile Mother phone shop in Mandalay is selling the SIMs, which have a recommended retail price of 1,500 kyat (about US$1.50), for 1,700 kyat each to people with national identity cards. A member of staff said the shop, which is an official Ooredoo distributor, sold out of its 1,000 SIM cards within a day.

The cards come with 900 free minutes and 900 free SMS text messages to other Ooredoo phones, 90 minutes of free calls and 90 free texts to MPT users, and 20 megabytes (MB) of Internet data to be used between Aug. 2 and 15, according to phone shop workers.

Calls cost 25 kyat per minute between Ooredoo users, or 35 kyat to other networks, and texts and 1 MB of data also cost 25 kyat each, they said. Although details of Ooredoo’s data plans have not been announced, some on Burmese social media have already complained that 25 kyat per MB would add up to a high cost for frequent Internet users, who often use 1 gigabyte, or 1,000 MB, per week.

Some phone shops in Mandalay are only selling Ooredoo SIM cards to customers who also buy a phone handset, according to a salesperson from Any Call Mobile, a Telenor representative shop, who also said the unofficial launch had not impacted on phone sales at his shop.

In expectation of the new competition, MPT has been distributing more of its SIMs and has said it will soon put them on general sale. The company has tied up with Japanese firms KDDI and Sumitomo in an attempt to hold on to its dominant position in the Burmese phone market.

MPT also launched a “Friends and Family” promotion on Tuesday, with which users can pay 2,500 kyat and make calls at 25 kyat per minute to three designated users.