Ooredoo hits half a million on 4G
The Qatari firm has seen a fast take-up of its fourth-generation services and is looking forward to a planned spectrum auction to help it expand coverage.
OOREDOO has racked up half a million 4G users since it became the first telecoms operator to roll out fourth-generation services in Myanmar in May, and is looking forward to a planned spectrum auction that would help it expand coverage, chief executive Rene Meza told The Myanmar Times.
When it launched 4G the Qatari firm said it aimed to cover one-half of Yangon’s townships, all of Mandalay and about 90 percent of Nay Pyi Taw’s townships.
Last week Mr Meza told The Myanmar Times Ooredoo now has 500,000 4G users across those three areas and a total 4G coverage area encompassing 4.6 million people.
Rival operator Telenor started offering 4G services in Nay Pyi Taw in July, and is in the testing phase in Yangon and Shan State’s Muse and Tachilek, Joachim Rajaram, the firm’s head of corporate communications in Myanmar, said.
Telenor wanted to launch the new service away from heavy usage areas to minimise adjustments in existing 3G services, and Nay Pyi Taw was a good market in that respect, Mr Rajaram said. He could not comment on when Telenor would launch commercial 4G services outside of the capital.
Both the telcos’ 4G services remain for internet only for the time being, with voice calls supported on 3G.
The sharp increase in 4G usage is the second time the Myanmar market has taken Ooredoo by surprise, Mr Meza said. The first was the speed of smartphone penetration across the country after the company first start operating in 2014.
When the Qatari firm entered Myanmar it decided to concentrate on the urban centres and on higher-value customers with heavy data usage.
But the subsequent countrywide surge in smartphone and data usage left Ooredoo without a distribution network able to keep up with wider demand, he said.
The company has since adopted a mass-market approach to cater to widespread adoption of smart phones and data. Mr Meza said that 80pc of Ooredoo’s 8.2 million Myanmar customers now use data, and estimated the split between urban and rural areas at 50-50.
The firm’s 4G rollout remains limited to urban centres, and will track the expansion of 4G enabled devices, he added. Ooredoo customers wanting faster-speed 4G offers need a 4G-compatible phone, but not a new SIM card.
Telenor instituted a no-cost 4G SIM card swap program at the start of this year, and neither Telenor nor Ooredoo are charging customers more to access 4G services.
But regardless of the supply of compatible SIM cards and devices, both firms will need more spectrum in order to keep meet the growing demand for 4G.
The firms purchase spectrum – the radio frequency on which communication traffic can be sent – from the government. Ooredoo and Telenor both have spectrum on the 900MHz and 2100MHz bands, and use the latter for 4G.
The previous administration came under fire from the two telcos at the start of this year for planning spectrum auctions – initially an auction of 140MHz on the 2600MHz band – before any kind of roadmap on how the resource would be managed was in place. That auction of 140MHz was then postponed.
The National League for Democracy administration’s new Ministry of Transport and Communications is now going ahead with a 2600MHz band auction, which it announced as part of its 100-day plan.
The ministry’s Posts and Telecommunications Department released auction details on July 25. The deadline for expressions of interest was August 9 and the auction for 40MHz on the 2600MHz band will begin on October 17.
Whether or not Ooredoo purchases space on the 2600MHz will be a “strategic decision”, said Mr Meza. But the firm has learned from the regulator that the 1800MHz spectrum will be made available by the end of the year, and it is this spectrum on which the firm will rely for wider 4G coverage, he added.
Mr Rajaram said Telenor will need to more spectrum to bring 4G to as many people as possible and is in “close dialogue” with the regulator on the 1800MHz auction. But he could not comment on when that auction would be.
An assistant director in the Posts and Telecommunications Department, who asked to remain anonymous, said the 1800MHz would be “as soon as possible”, but could not comment on whether it would be this year.
Both Ooredoo and Telenor are eager to see lower-spectrum bands like the 1800MHz made available, as these are better able to penetrate walls and more suitable to expand coverage. Bands like the 2600MHz require a greater density of tower sites, which is challenge in urban areas, Mr Rajaram said.
Expanding 4G coverage also depends partly on how much data customers use. At present the average Ooredoo 4G customer uses 1.5 to 2 gigabytes of data per month, Mr Meza said.
“If that [figure] stays there, then doubling the base [without more spectrum] would be a stretch,” he said. But he thinks that early adopters of 4G in Myanmar will be those with larger data needs, and as coverage expands it will reach customers with lower requirements.
Shoppers buy Ooredoo mobile phone SIM cards from a shop in Yangon.