Burma to Hand Out Free Temporary SIM Cards to SEA Games Participants

By San Yamin Aung 26 October 2013

Burma’s notoriously corrupt and underdeveloped telecommunications sector will get a boost with the distribution of 30,000 free temporary SIM cards to local athletes and their international counterparts, as well as trainers, judges and other personnel directly involved in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games, according to the national telecoms provider.

About 6,000 athletes from 11 countries are expected to participate in the 27th SEA Games, which will be held from Dec. 11-22, and will mark the first time Burma has hosted the biannual competition in more than four decades.

“We will give commemorative SIM cards with the SEA Games logo to make communication for participants in the SEA Games more convenient, without [requiring] payment,” Theinhoke, deputy general manager of Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), told The Irrawaddy.

The cards will only be operational from November through January 2014.

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

SIM cards in Burma are issued entirely under the auspices of government-owned MPT, which just this April rolled out a lottery system to offer SIM cards at a price of 1,500 kyats (less than US$2). That price, close to the going rate for a SIM card in neighboring countries, has been inflated on the black market by the limited availability of the new issuances, and SIM cards still regularly sell for about $150.

For many years, SIM cards in Burma were priced at about $3,000. They dropped to around $500 in 2011, and were selling for about $200 a year later. The awarding of operating licenses to two international telecommunications firms in July is expected to bring the price of SIM cards down to a level comparable to the rest of the region, but that drop in rates is not expected until sometime mid-2014.

Theinhoke said that in addition to the free commemorative cards, GSM SIM cards lasting one month and costing 20,000 kyats would be available for SEA Games guests who travel to Burma to cheer on the athletic delegations of the competing Southeast Asian nations.

All athletes and Games attendees will be able to purchase the one-month duration SIM cards at the Rangoon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay airports, as well as at the sporting complexes of Wunna Theikdi and Zeyar Thiri in Naypyidaw, and the Zabuthiri athletes village, according to a statement from the Games’ Organizing Committee.

Games events will be held primarily in Naypyidaw, with Rangoon, Mandalay and New Saung beach also hosting events.

A mobile handset rental service will be available at the three airports and designated SEA Games venues. Top-up cards with the SEA Games logo will be available for 5,000 kyats and both the commemorative SIM cards and the one-month issuances will also accept top-up cards purchased on the current local market.

Upgraded mobile Internet services are also expected to be available to smartphone users at SEA Games venues. Theinhoke said installation of fourth generation (4G) mobile Internet networks at Games venues was 90 percent complete. Crews began installing the upgraded network in July.

Currently, the most advanced mobile Internet network system in Burma is 3G.