The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Dec. 5, 2015)

By Simon Lewis 5 December 2015

Towers Market Could See Consolidation as New Telcos Enter 

Large regional companies recently entering Burma’s mobile phone tower sector may look to acquire smaller tower companies already operating in the market, analysts have predicted.

Malaysia-based Axiata, a major regional telecoms player that failed in a bid to win one of the first two private telecommunications licenses issued by the Burmese government in 2014, has announced major new investment plans in the country.

The group’s towers subsidiary Edotco recently bought out Digicel’s 75 percent stake in the Myanmar Tower Company, which has built cell phone masts for Ooredoo. According to Bloomberg, Edotco may spend as much as another US$200 million in Burma, and plans to scale up to 5,000 towers, from the Myanmar Tower Company’s 1,250 existing towers.

In an update sent out this week, analysts BMI Research said Axiata is also one of the foreign companies hoping to team up with a consortium of 11 local firms bidding to win a new mobile phone license being awarded by the government. The other license is held by the former monopoly holder Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications, or MPT, while a military-owned company also operates under the brand MecTel.

Another Malaysian conglomerate, OCK Group, also signed a deal last month to build towers for Telenor, helping that company toward a goal of about 9,000 towers in order to expand coverage to 90 percent of the population by 2019, a target written into the private telcos’ contracts.

BMI Research said the difficulties of building mobile networks in more remote parts of Burma, where the electricity grid is patchy, means that the costs of building telecoms infrastructure are higher than elsewhere. By way of an example, the analysts said Edotco’s lease rates for towers in Burma average between $1,400 and $1,700, compared with just $600 in India.

“Whilst ample opportunities remain in the towers market with the impending entrance of a fourth operator and launch of 4G services potentially boosting tenant ratios, it could be headed towards consolidation as Telenor and Ooredoo consider infrastructure sharing to reduce [capital expenditure] and speed up their network rollout process,” the update said.

It pointed out that several other private companies were already leasing towers to the mobile phone companies, including Apollo Towers, Irrawaddy Green Towers, Pan Asia Towers and Myanmar Infrastructure Group.

“Smaller tower companies, which have not been re-contracted, could become acquisition targets for larger regional players like Edotco, which can leverage experience and benefit from lower operational costs through scale to meet rollout targets,” BMI Research said.

Suu Kyi Advisor Hints at Red Tape-Slashing Reforms

A Hong Kong-based lawyer who advises National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi has suggested that cutting regulations for business in Burma will be among the economic priorities of the new government.

Suu Kyi’s party won enough seats in the Nov. 8 election to select the president and one vice president, and will form a government early next year. While the military will retain control of certain ministries dealing with the country’s security, policing and borders, the NLD will be able to take the reins of the country’s economic reforms.

Robert Pé, an arbitration lawyer who is of Anglo-Burmese heritage, was interviewed by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post about what needed to be done to kick-start the Burmese economy. His comments suggest that the party will begin by easing the bureaucratic red tape that he claims has stifled business in Burma up to now.

“Firstly, there are too many regulations. You have to get permits or permissions for just about everything,” Pé was quoted saying.

“We need to reduce the amount of regulation and just make it easier for businesses to operate, both foreign and domestic businesses.”

He highlighted the rules that require foreign companies to register with a police station when setting up an office, and the difficulties for foreign businesses, particularly small enterprises, in getting secure access to land and property.

Pé also told the South China Morning Post that bribery should be tackled by increasing salaries for civil servants, including judges.

“We need to make it much easier for domestic and foreign investors. That’s why reducing regulation is key and reducing bribery is also key,” he was quoted saying.

Ministry of Commerce Allows JVs to Trade Agricultural, Medical Products

Burma’s Ministry of Commerce has issued an announcement saying fertilizers and insecticides, as well as some medical products, may now be traded by foreign companies in joint ventures with local firms, according to a report.

The government of President Thein Sein has initiated reforms to open up some sectors of Burma’s economy to foreign companies. Many sectors remain closed to investment from overseas, however, with local companies fearful that they will not be able to compete if larger players from abroad are allowed into the market.

The website Deal Street Asia cited a ministry announcement listing a handful of product types that were now approved for trading by joint ventures: fertilizers, seedlings and insecticides, and hospital and clinical materials.

“According to the notification, only foreign companies that set up joint ventures with local firms will be allowed to trade equivalent to the capital they bring to the country,” Deal Street Asia reported.

“The rules and regulations of the trading will be the same as for the local companies doing the trade.”

Pakistani Online Ticketing Start-Up Coming to Burma

Burmese cinemagoers will soon be able to book movie tickets through their mobile phones, thanks to a team up between a Pakistani start-up and a local firm.

The website Tech in Asia reports that online booking platform Bookme has announced that it will enter Burma, in partnership with Rangoon-based Lychee Ventures, which currently publishes magazines and guides under the Myanmore brand.

Bookme.pk allows mobile internet users to book tickets for movies, events and buses, and the firm has reportedly raised some $4 million in investments.

Tech in Asia said Bookme will begin in Burma soon, initially focusing on cinema ticketing. “For now, Bookme will offer cinema tickets to two outlets—[Mingalar] Cinemas and JCGV cinemas, with others to follow,” the report said.

According to its Facebook page, Mingalar Cinemas operates 10 cinemas, including downtown Rangoon’s Thamada, Nay Pyi Taw and Shae Saung theaters. JCGV runs theaters in the Junction shopping complexes, including the Junction Maw Tin and Junction Square malls in Rangoon.

Bookme’s CEO, Faizan Aslam, was quoted by Tech in Asia saying that the current boom in mobile phone subscriptions in Burma meant there was “tremendous potential” for growth in the online ticketing sector.