RANGOON — A fourth major telecom operator is expected to enter the Burma mobile phone market before the end of the year.
Since 2014, only three mobile telecom companies—Norway’s Telenor, Qatar’s Ooredoo, and the partly state-owned MPT—have operated in Burma with permission to sell low-cost SIM cards to Burmese users.
Now a fourth operator is preparing to launch. The yet-to-be-named telecom will operate as a joint venture between Vietnam’s Viettel and a conglomerate of 11 local Burmese companies, called the Myanmar National Telecom Holding Public Company. The new company is expected to receive a license from the government within a week and to launch its business operations almost immediately.
“The government ministry has approved issuing a license for a new telecom operator now,” said U Chit Wai, the Myanmar Post and Telecommunications Department permanent secretary. “We still need to discuss further details, but I hope we will issue a license before the end of this year.”
Viettel will own a 49 percent share in the new telecom, while Burmese firms own 51 percent.
“We haven’t set the date yet for issuing the license,” he added.
Before the new telecom operator enters the Burma market, existing firms are trying to beef up their business strategies. Among the big three telecom firms, MPT leads in market share and provides service to 21 million people. Telenor, meanwhile, covers about 18 million, and Ooredoo has over 10 million users. Burma’s population is 53 million people.
As a fourth telecom firm is scheduled to launch soon, MPT is preparing for more intense competition in the marketplace. MPT is expanding its services and network, MPT’s chief commercial officer Koichi Kawase told the Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
“In terms of subscribers, the three operators in this country are getting close to servicing 100 percent of the total population,” he said. “So by the end of March next year, our network coverage area is going to reach 98 percent of the total population.”
“And with the fourth telecom arriving, now we have to take the next step,” said Koichi Kawase. “So we will be expanding our networks, and we will now really focus on the quality of our services.”
MPT and its Japanese partner firm, KDDI, are planning to invest US$2 billion in the Burmese market over the next 10 years, the company said. MPT is already the nation’s most widely-used mobile operator and leads all Burmese telecoms in terms of infrastructure development. The company sees the additional investment as a way to strengthen its majority market share.
“The $2 billion investment will happen step by step,” Koichi Kawase said. “And if the market makes it necessary, we will expand on that investment.”
Part of that $2 billion in spending will go to the construction of additional cell towers, MPT said. But MPT would not reveal how many towers it has already set up across the country.
Similarly, the Qatar-owned Ooredoo telecom is expanding its network’s reach and improving 4G coverage across Burma.
The Norwegian Telenor firm is also expanding. Telenor’s chief executive officer Lars Erik Tellman told the Irrawaddy last week that his company provides voice and data services to about 18 million customers across Burma. About 64 percent of Telenor’s customers are active data users.
“We will see any competition entering the market as healthy,” he said. “We know that competition drives innovation and new ideas, and makes us become better.”
Telenor has invested $1.5 billion in the Burma market over the past two years, and it plans to spend more depending on the market’s requirements, Tellman said.