World Eco­nomic Fo­rum: An open can­vas for tele­com in Myan­mar

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - By Eric Baker

Part of the lure of Myan­mar for in­ter­na­tional in­vestors is that in so many sec­tors, it re­ally is un­charted ter­ri­tory—you can set your own course. And so it is for tele­com, where less than 7% of the pop­u­la­tion has a mo­bile phone, and only 1% has a wired con­nec­tion, the third-low­est pen­e­tra­tion rate in the world be­hind North Korea and Eritrea. Prior to ap­proval of a pend­ing tele­com law this year, the pre­vi­ous reg­u­la­tion in Myan­mar dates back to 1885. This is truly vir­gin wa­ters for the en­tre­pre­neur, and a few months back Te­lenor was granted one of the li­cences to op­er­ate a tele­com busi­ness in that coun­try. This was the set­ting for the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum ( WEF) on East Asia that took place in Nay Pyi Taw, Myan­mar, in June 2013. Myan­mar is slated to take over the chair­man­ship of ASEAN in 2014, with the ASEAN Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity sched­uled for late 2015. One of sev­eral sub­jects ad­dressed was how changes in tele­com in Myan­mar and the re­gion will af­fect liv­ing con­di­tions in the near fu­ture. A lot of ser­vices people take for granted are not avail­able in Myan­mar, as an es­ti­mated 74% of the pop­u­la­tion lack ac­cess to power and live amidst very rudi­men­tary in­fra­struc­ture. For ICT (in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy) in­fra­struc­ture, there are “par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant” gaps among ASEAN mem­bers in the use of the in­ter­net and mo­bile broad­band pen­e­tra­tion, with Myan­mar fin­ish­ing near the bot­tom, re­ported the WEF Travel & Tourism Com­pet­i­tive­ness Re­port 2013. The coun­try also has a drop-out rate of 23% be­tween pri­mary and sec­ondary school, the high­est in East Asia and McKin­sey Global In­sti­tute put’s the aver­age school­ing at four years ac­cord­ing to “Myan­mar’s Mo­ment, Unique op­por­tu­ni­ties, Ma­jor chal­lenges”, their re­port is­sued in June this year. But most of the busi­ness lead­ers were op­ti­mistic about the in­flu­ence and po­ten­tial of tele­com in Myan­mar. Sunil Bharti Mit­tal, the chair­man and group chief ex­ec­u­tive of Bharti En­ter­prises Ltd, pointed to mo­bile bank­ing, mo­bile ed­u­ca­tion and en­trepreneur­ship as the ben­e­fits of mo­bile pen­e­tra­tion in the econ­omy. He also be­lieves the Myan­mar govern­ment is com­mit­ted to us­ing in­for­ma­tion and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy to bet­ter the lives of its people. Thaung Tin, deputy min­is­ter in Myan­mar’s Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Min­istry, said the govern­ment aims to have 50% tele­phone den­sity by 2015, which means half the people liv­ing in a des­ig­nated area have tele­phone con­nec­tions. One of the cri­te­ria for the tele­com li­cences the govern­ment just granted was cov­er­age of 92% of the pop­u­la­tion within five years, and cov­er­ing a cer­tain per­cent­age of uni­ver­si­ties, hos­pi­tals and ma­jor towns within the first year. “The telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions land­scape of Myan­mar should be to­tally dif­fer­ent two years from now,” said Thaung Tin. But he em­pha­sised that Myan­mar’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is not able to pro­duce enough ca­pa­ble grad­u­ates for ser­vice this in­dus­try on its own, so that out­side ex­per­tise was needed for train­ing and tech­nol­ogy. “It is ur­gent that we cre­ate hu­man cap­i­tal that is ready for the in­dus­try,” he said. “But for now, we need in­ter­na­tional oper­a­tors that have years of ex­pe­ri­ence.” Dan’l Lewin, Mi­crosoft Cor­po­ra­tion’s cor­po­rate vi­cepres­i­dent for strate­gic and emerg­ing busi­ness, de­clared “Myan­mar’s tele­com de­vel­op­ment has the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop hu­man po­ten­tial”. He added that data sovereignty, pub­lic poli­cies and pri­vacy is­sues need to be nor­malised for pri­vate in­vest­ment to oc­cur. “En­ter­prises and ecosys­tems strive with­out fric­tion, and gov­ern­ments cre­ate fric­tion. But with­out govern­ment par­tic­i­pa­tion in the US there would be no Sil­i­con Val­ley. Then the govern­ment kind of got out of the way, and we ended up with ma­chines that au­to­mated reg­u­lar tasks. En­trepreneurs need an en­vi­ron­ment where they can do busi­ness,” he said. Phone calls in Myan­mar cost six US cents per minute now, but an­a­lysts be­lieve they will drop to two to three cents per minute once in­fra­struc­ture starts be­ing built.

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