Ooredoo and Telenor win Myanmar telecoms licences, Parliament debate telecoms law

Ooredoo (formerly known as QTel) and Telenor have won the process run by the executive branch of the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar for the award of two national telecoms licences. A consortium of Orange and Marubeni Corporation was named as the back-up applicant. The original field of twelve bidders was reduced to eleven following the withdrawal of the Vodafone / China Mobile consortium.

In a joint press release with Telenor and Ooredoo, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology,  has set out an overview of the winners’ licence commitments:

Telenor:

“Telenor is committed to the rapid roll out of a modern telecommunications network and affordable services that will deliver the benefits of mobile communications to the people of Myanmar. This includes building a state-of-the-art mobile network using HSPA and LTE-ready technologies for Myanmar to match the sophistication of leading networks around the world today, and plans to achieve nationwide network coverage in Myanmar within five years by establishing an extensive distribution network across the country. Telenor has committed to a nationwide geographic coverage of 83% for voice and 78% for data after 5 years. Telenor also has committed to more than 70,000 points of sales where SIM cards can be bought and more than 95,000 points of sales where top-up can be purchased, after 5 years. As a long-term player Telenor understands the strategic role of telecommunications in promoting a more vibrant, attractive and competitive business environment, and hopes that helping to modernise Myanmar’s telecommunications sector will enable sustainable economic growth and development.

Telenor is also fully prepared to contribute to the government’s goal to rapidly boost mobile penetration by providing affordable services for the mass market in Myanmar to remove entry barriers and enable more people to access the opportunities that connectivity presents. The company will offer highly competitive tariffs that are significantly lower than what is available in the market today, and will also leverage its experience and in-depth knowledge in Asia to provide cost-effective packages that are tailored for consumers in the prepaid segment while ensuring an excellent customer experience. For example, the tariff for prepaid voice during peak hours will not be higher than MMK 25 per minute (excluding taxes). SIM cards will cost not more than MMK 1,500. A full range of mobile services, both voice and data, will be commercially launched as its initial offering, anticipated to happen by the second quarter of 2014. It will also provide a comprehensive portfolio of value-added services to customers in Myanmar including mobile financial and healthcare services, as well as services tailored to the agriculture industry.

Telenor also places a high priority on contributing to the communities in markets where it operates, and will build on its strong track record of working with the government and relevant organisations to develop a corporate responsibility and community engagement programme in Myanmar. For example, Telenor will build 200 “Community Information Centres” with the aim of fostering user adoption of mobile services and Internet in rural areas and improving digital literacy through nationwide initiatives for schoolchildren. Telenor will recruit a strong Myanmar workforce at all levels and provide employees with solid career opportunities including working alongside a core team of experienced international technical experts and business leaders.

The company has also pledged to support the government of Myanmar through commitments such as a free central government SMS communication channel and free use of emergency services, as well as free access to important public, government, educational and health websites.”

Ooredoo

“Ooredoo’s binding commitments will significantly contribute to the leapfrog of Myanmar’s telecom sector. Ooredoo has committed to nationwide geographic coverage of 84% (both voice and data) after 5 years. It has committed to a voice tariff during peak hours of up to MMK 45 per minute (for calls to another operator) and up to MMK 35 (for calls among Ooredoo subscribers). It will offer SIM cards at MMK 1,500 or below and will also have an offer with a SIM card for free. Ooredoo has committed to create a large distribution network encompassing 240,000 points of sales where SIM cards can be bought and more than 720,000 points of sales where top-up can be purchased after 5 years.

Ooredoo will offer a wide range of value added services. For example, its mobile money service will give customers the opportunity to send money to their family and friends. Local content including local video content and mobile applications will be made available to customers. A range of mHealth services will be provided including health-based advisory, monitoring services, access to doctors and the ability to submit the user’s health data to a database for automatic monitoring of key health indicators. Another service will function as an information service and portal for agriculture market prices, weather forecasts, and equipment rental services.

Ooredoo has also pledged to invest heavily in the Myanmar economy and strongly contribute to the development of the country. It will invest around USD 60 million into corporate social responsibility initiatives over the next 10 years. For example, Ooredoo will build 10,000 tele-centres across the country that will provide free public Internet connectivity to Myanmar people in both urban and rural areas. Additionally, Ooredoo has guaranteed at least one free Internet access-point for all public primary and secondary schools, universities and libraries. Moreover, it will provide coverage to all 900 hospitals and clinics around Myanmar, with each receiving at least one free Internet access-point. Ooredoo also intends to set up 15 mobile health clinics by the end of 2016, which will provide healthcare assistance to rural communities through routine and scheduled visits to designated locations, and which will focus on women, children and citizens who cannot afford any healthcare. 99.9% of Ooredoo’s employees in Myanmar will be Myanmar citizens after 5 years.”

Whilst the winning international licensees were announced by the Ministry (despite an attempt by the lower house of parliament to delay the award), Myanmar still does not have a telecoms law, which continues to be progressed by a parliamentary committee.

Myanmar invites applications for two telecoms licences

Myanmar today (15 January 2013) invited expressions of interest for two national telecommunications services licences.

I have blogged about the prospects for telecoms in Myanmar before, and today’s announcement starts to clear some of the fog obscuring the road ahead.

Policy framework

In the short press release,  the Government recites that their policy framework is:

“for the development of the country’s telecommunications and ICT industry by facilitating competition of both local and international operators in the sector”.

A more detailed overview is set out in an appendix to the expression of interest.

Policy Goals

The press release then states that the goals are:

“to increase the overall teledensity of the country to 75% to 80% in 2015-16 to make the telecommunications services available to the public at affordable prices, and to give the public the capability of choice for the telecoms services.”

Key licence terms and process

The expression of interest further explains that:

  • the telecommunications licences will be technology neutral;

  • there will be a range of spectrum available across multiple frequency bands;

  • the initial licence term will range between 10 to 20 years with the possibility of renewal;

  • there will be a requirement to meet or exceed specified population and geographic coverage targets;

  • there will also be a requirement to commit to reasonable tariffs and low initial registration fees in order to facilitate the Union Government’s accessibility and tele-density targets;

  • both new and existing licensees will be expected to enter into infrastructure and facilities sharing arrangements in order to achieve rapid and cost efficient network deployment;  and

  • the licences will be awarded via a comparative evaluation process.

 Information required for Expression of interest

The expression of interest sets out the information to be provided by bidders, which focuses on the existing operations of the bidders – presumably this is to qualify bidders and information about their plans for Myanmar will be collected at a later stage of the process.

Next steps

Expressions of interest are due by 3pm on 25 January 2013  with licences expected to be awarded by the first half of 2013. Although the process has a long way to go, the stated policy aims are very much in line with international best practice, which compares well with the approach taken by other lesser developed countries.

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Is Myanmar the next destination for investment in telecoms, media or technology?

Following recent political reforms in Myanmar and the recent electoral success of Aung San Suu Kyi‘s National League for Democracy, Myanmar is currently flavour of the month as an investment destination, and could soon see significant investment in telecoms infrastructure. However, whilst there are opportunities Myanmar is starting out on a long journey that could be derailed very easily.

Whilst after nearly half a century of economic stagnation there is certainly scope for growth, it must be remembered how poor Myanmar actually is today and where it is starting from. With a PPP GDP of c. USD 82 bn and a population of c. 60m its annual GDP per head is somewhere in the region of USD 1,300. To help understand this, that means that Myanmar’s peer group mainly consists of countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Rwanda and Mali. 

Transparency International ranks Myanmar alongside Afhanistan (above only North Korea and Somalia) as a highly corrupt country and its infrastructure is very underdeveloped.

Alongside the holding of elections, Myanmar has also undertaken or announced a number of general economic reforms including:

In addition, with the news today that the government has met with leaders of the Karen National Union, to the extent that Myanmar is able to start to peacefully resolve internal ethnic conflicts the combination of this engagement together with democratisation and economic reforms means that there is a real prospect of the lifting of economic sanctions.

In terms of opportunities across the telecoms, media and technology sectors, given the state of Myanmar’s infrastructure investment in new mobile networks is both the most necessary and the most likely. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Khin Maung Thet, director-general of Myanmar’s Post & Telecommunications Department said:

“A new communications law is being studied to create four new telecommunications licenses in the country, with the licenses available both to local and foreign investors. Currently, foreigners aren’t allowed to hold telecom licenses in Myanmar.

The new law was sent to Myanmar’s attorney general last month and is awaiting his approval now. Once that is obtained the law will be sent to Myanmar’s cabinet and then on to Parliament for approval.

[Mr. Khin Maung Thet said] he wasn’t sure when the attorney general would finish reviewing the law.”

With estimates of mobile penetration between 1-5%, and internet access <1% Myanmar will need significant external investment if it is to stand any chance of hitting its objective of 50% penetration by 2015. I’ll be watching with interest the detail of the new law when it becomes available.