RANGOON — Myanmar Posts and Telecommunication and China Unicom have signed an agreement to build a new optical fiber cable that would connect Burma with China and international submarine communications networks, a senior official said on Thursday. The project would improve Internet connectivity in Burma.
The news comes amid an ongoing disruption that has severely slowed Internet connections in Burma in recent days.
On July 4, Burmese state-owned firm Myanmar Posts and Telecommunication (MPT) signed an agreement with Chinese government company China Unicom to develop the optical fiber cable, said Soe Thane, deputy general manager of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology’s work and inspection department.
“It is a cooperation agreement between Myanmar and China for Internet and mobile phone communication. MPT would be able to use of half of the cable’s [communication] capacity,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Soe Thane said the firms would both own half of the project, which is expected to be completed in 2014.
China Unicom is one of the world’s biggest telecom companies with US$26 billion in annual revenues.
The approximately 1,500-km long cable will run from Muse, on the Burma-China border in Shan State, to Ngwe Saung Beach in the Irrawaddy Delta, from where it will connect to the submarine cable network SEA-ME-WE 5 in the Andaman Sea.
The underwater SEA-ME-WE 5 regional cable network is planned by a consortium of 18 telecom companies including Singtel, France Telecom, China Telecom and China Mobile. It would connect Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe.
During the past year, there have been media reports of a possible deal between Burma and China to develop an Internet cable that would connect both countries to the SEA-ME-WE 5 cable. In January, Mizzima reported that MPT and China Unicom signed an agreement for the project in September 2012. The cable’s development would reportedly require a US$40 million investment.
Currently, Burma is connected to the SEA-ME-WE 3 submarine cable, while overland communications cables link it with networks in Bangladesh, Thailand and China.
A disruption occurred on Sunday with Burma’s connection with the SEA-ME-WE 3 at a site located about 13 km off the Irrawaddy Delta’s shore. The disruption is leading to serious delays in establishing Internet connections in the country.
Poor government planning and international sanctions have hampered the development of Burma’s Internet infrastructure under the previous military government and Internet connectivity in Burma is among the worst in the region.
Last month, foreign telecom companies Ooredoo and Telenor won the bids for a government tender to develop Internet and mobile phone networks in Burma.
Soe Thane said the firms could pay for usage of the planned Burmese-Chinese optical fiber cable.
Ye Myat Thu, an IT specialist, said he welcomed the plans to develop a new fiber cable that would better connect Burma with international communications networks, adding however, that the government should consider whether it would want to work with China Unicom on the cable’s development.
“Chinese [information] technology is considered of a lesser quality compared to American and Japanese technology,” he said. “We should consider which firms are the best in building such underwater cables and what guarantees they can give the government regarding the cable’s functioning.”