Myanmar Times — At the basic level, one minute of a voice call using MPT costs K35 with its Swe Thahar plan, except to three specific numbers where the cost is K25. Telenor and Ooredoo’s fees per minute have been slightly lower so far than MPT’s. The telcos also offer package deals with different quotas of internet and calls which allows for some lower prices. Speaking at the opening of the MPT shop in Nay Pyi Taw’s Myoma market on June 21, MPT official U Thein Hote said the price reduction is still being discussed.
Electronic bill payments may soon become the main form of payment in Myanmar, with the help of easyBills. Developed by 2C2P and the Myanmar Payment Union (MPU), easyBills aims to eliminate the traditional cash-based, over-the-counter method of payment. MPU is the national payment network of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar that authorises the issuance and acceptance of all payment cards within the country. There are almost a million MPU cards in Myanmar, and the number is set to grow rapidly, according to MPU.
Despite a new telecoms law that empowers the Union government to pursue confidential user information under certain circumstances, a framework around its implementation has yet to be hammered out. Industry players have established stopgap measures that balance consumer rights and compliance. Section 75 of Myanmar’s 2013 telecoms law says the Union government may direct organisations to help it obtain information or telecommunications damaging to national security and the prevalence of law, so long as doing so does not impact fundamental rights of citizens.
The day-long hacking marathon came on the heels of the Union government’s online publication of census data from last year’s enumeration. While access to that information only requires a few clicks, taking in what’s on Excel data sheets gets complicated – which is where hackers can help. At the June 6 event, which lasted for the working day, loose groups worked on different projects, including an application program interface (API) for calling up census data.
State-owned MPT is still the mobile phone market leader, claiming 65 percent of all SIMs in the market, though its foreign rivals are also growing rapidly. MPT was the sole telecoms service provider until August last year, when it was joined by first Ooredoo and then Telenor. As of the end of March, MPT had 18.4 million SIMs in the market, while Ooredoo had 3.3 million SIMs and Telenor 6.4 million SIMs, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology permanent secretary U Khin Maung Thet said.
The proposal was approved following a long debate between members of parliament and ministers during a May 27 parliamentary session. The move follows a groundswell of opposition to the tax, announced at a May 18 event in Nay Pyi Taw by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT). It said the 5pc tax on telecoms services would be collected from June 1, ending what it said was an exemption granted to the industry.
Shop owners in every township of Myanmar’s three largest cities have set up Red Dot terminals – machines that act as payment gateways allowing customers to top up mobile phones without scratch cards. Based in downtown Yangon, Red Dot offers technology and services that can streamline top-up sales and management for vendors, which is currently a clunky and involved process, according to Mr Whelan.
The company’s new “Phalan Phalan Internet” plan arrives as the telco gears up for fresh expansion into Myanmar’s more remote territories. Earlier this year, the firm lowered its calling rate to K20 a minute, K5 below Telenor’s rate. Ooredoo’s Norwegian rival had set pay-as-you-go internet rates through its standard My Internet package at K6 per megabyte.
The tax, while currently on the books, has not been enforced due to a sector-wide exemption, said MCIT director U Than Tun Aung. “The commercial tax has been implemented last year but because at that time the telecoms sector has been tremendously improving … the Union Government as well as the Parliament decided to give benefits to the population first, so they gave the industry a one-year exemption for the commercial tax,” he said at the Nay Pyi Taw press event yesterday. That exemption will close soon as an amendment to the Commercial Tax Law came into force on April 1, said an MCIT press release.
Since Myanmar opened up its economy in 2010, after one of the most brutal dictatorships in Asia, capitalism has been on the rise. The country’s abundant natural resources, strategic location between Asia’s powers India and China, and its largely untapped market of 60 million people have caught the interest of foreign investors. Singapore-based startup Leo Tech is one of those trying to navigate Myanmar’s spurting, but still opaque, business environment. Leo Tech launched its umbrella brand for financial tech, ConnectNPay, in 2014, along with the bid of several companies like German group Rocket Internet to jumpstart ecommerce in Myanmar.
Several companies have made an initial bid and are now carrying out the due diligence process on MTC, according to a source at one of the companies, who did not want to be named as the matter is sensitive. MTC and Yoma Strategic both declined to comment. Digicel Group first came to Myanmar with a view to securing one of two international telecommunications licences tendered by the government, which were eventually won by Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo.
Asia Tech Image ramped up a production line with a monthly capacity of 300,000 contact image sensor (CIS) modules in Myanmar in first-quarter 2015 and in order to meet increasing orders will set up a second production line with the same capacity there by the end of 2015 and will start production in early 2016, according to Chinese-language newspaper Economic Daily News(EDN).
After years in which the telecommunications sector was dominated by state-owned monopoly Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), in 2012 officials confirmed plans to reform the industry. In June 2013, following an international tender, licences were granted to Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo. State media announced that the government would also “grant license to two local operators – Myanma Posts and Telecommunications and Myanma Economic Corporation as a joint venture and the other Yatanarpon Teleport Co which will reshape itself as a public company”.
KDDI, which on May 12 released its financial report for the fiscal year ending March 2015, stated that launching operations in Myanmar had boosted revenues for its global services segment, with the segment’s operating revenues posted at 320.6 billion yen (US $2.7 billion) – up more than 20 percent over the year prior. The company first officially entered Myanmar last July when it joined Sumitomo Corporation in setting up a subsidiary, KDDI Summit Global Myanmar (KSGM), to assist state-owned MPT in competing with then-forthcoming international telcos Ooredoo and Telenor.
Mr Cormack will be replaced by Rene Meza, currently the managing director of Vodacom Tanzania. Mr Meza has made emerging markets a specialty as he has occupied senior positions at telcos across Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to Ooredoo. “Ross feels that he’s achieved what he wants to in Myanmar with Ooredoo Myanmar successfully established and he feels that the time is right to look for a new professional challenge,” said Ooredoo Myanmar senior public relations manager Ma Thiri Kyar Nyo yesterday.
The build-and-lease contract is for a period of 18 months, according to the statement. This is a relatively modest rollout plan compared to other towers companies operating in Myanmar. Pan-Asia Towers, for instance, signed in early 2014 to build 1250 towers for Ooredoo as part of its phase one program, which is already complete. A report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and mobile operators industry body GSMA estimates that more than 17,000 telecommunication towers will need to be set up by 2017 to cover 70 percent of Myanmar’s population.
The firm has seen a steady increase in users since launching in October 2014, with nearly 60 percent of its subscribers actively using data, its first quarter 2015 report said. “In the coming quarters, we plan to ramp up network investments to cater for the strong demand for digital services in this connectivity-hungry nation,” Telenor Group president and CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas said in a statement. “While we are encouraged by the promising start in Myanmar, it has to be noted that it is still early days.”
The federation is currently in discussions with potential land owners, looking to emulate the success of MICT park in Hlaing township. “We estimate the ICT zone will be finished by the end of the year. The ICT zone is to collect together the IT sector,” said U Zaw Min Oo. MCF president U Khun Oo said there will be many work opportunities on the site for ICT professionals after it is up and running.
The firm has spent millions on its ongoing expansion, though is also generating growing revenue, according to its first-quarter 2015 report released yesterday. Ooredoo Myanmar revenues for the first quarter of 2015 came to QAR 236 million (US$64.8 million), though turned an overall $42 million net loss, attributed to its continued coverage expansion. It now covers more than 28 million people, its report said.
Qatar-based Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor were awarded licences to operate in Myanmar in February last year. Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), formerly the country’s monopoly provider, initially struggled to keep up, but then rebounded with support from Japanese firms KDDI and Sumitomo. The two foreign providers initially made rapid inroads by gathering up the low-hanging fruit presented by urban markets. But most of the population is in rural areas, where infrastructure is weak, slowing the pace of mobile penetration, U Thar Htet, managing director of Zwenexsys company, told The Myanmar Times yesterday.