Telenor Holds Charity SIM Card Auction for Vanity Numbers

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 26 February 2016

RANGOON — Telenor on Thursday held its first public charity auction for mobile SIM cards, netting a total of 483.5 million kyats (about US$390,000) for 55 vanity numbers.

The highest bid for a SIM from the Norwegian telecoms operator was for nearly $10,000 for the number 097 7777 7777.

“All the money collected will be given to myME [Myanmar Mobile Education] and support our plans to provide [digital] education to more than 5,000 to 10,000 children in 2016,” said Petter Furberg, chief executive officer of Telenor.

However, some Burmese social network users took umbrage at the auction, pointing out that there are some people who can hardly afford a meal each day, while others are wealthy enough to spend thousands of dollars for a special phone number.

“It’s really amazing that some people in Myanmar are so rich that they can spend so much money for a SIM,” commented one Facebook user.

Telenor has been a partner to myME since 2014, providing financial support enabling myME to provide vocational training particularly to children working in tea shops. More than 900 children were enrolled in the program by the end of 2015.

Thursday’s auction took place in Rangoon, Burma’s financial capital, but Telenor said that it has plans to hold future auctions in other states and divisions across the country.

State-owned telco Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) held a similar event in December for 126 phone numbers, raking in more than 300 million kyats (US$230,500), including a single bid of 22 million kyats ($16,900) for a number with seven recurring digits.

Under military rule, local SIM cards could cost up to $1,500. But since the government allowed foreign competitors into the sector in 2013, retail prices have fallen dramatically, to approximately 1,500 kyats ($1.15).