Interview : U Khin Maung Soe
How has increased competition among telecoms operators contributed to the sector’s development?
U KHIN MAUNG SOE: Increased competition has enabled consumers to identify which operators work well under different circumstances and which offer the best prices. Having said that, it is common for mobile phone users in Myanmar to make use of more than one SIM card at a time, in order to take advantage of the best possible deals from the different telecoms companies. This includes network coverage for phone calls, access to the internet and other services. This does of course depend on the area in which the services are taking place. As consumers demand better products and more sophisticated technology, companies will be encouraged to remain both proactive and innovative with their offerings. If they do not do so, it will be quite challenging for them to maintain a market share.
What are the main issues when entering the market, and what makes the sector attractive to investors?
KHIN MAUNG SOE: Myanmar’s telecoms industry arguably constitutes the most developed area of the economy. As such, the sector can be considered well established and the market is already rather crowded. While this might be seen as a disadvantage, there are many advantages to entering the market at this stage in its development. In general, the country’s internet service is not as good as it could be and it comes at a high price. Myanmar already has a decent network of telecommunications towers, but most of this infrastructure is built to provide 2G and 3G coverage. Upgrading to 4G technology would therefore require substantial investment and, at the moment, demand is not sufficiently high to justify such an upgrade.
Nevertheless, this pre-existing infrastructure can be leased to private companies. This means that latecomers can avoid facing the burden of the high costs associated with entering a developed market. From there the network can be upgraded with the latest and most advanced technology. This makes more sense from a financial perspective, and it also enables providers to benefit the end consumer by offering better, wider and faster access to the internet.
How are industry players overcoming the challenges of expanding services to remote locations?
KHIN MAUNG SOE: The Ministry of Transport and Communication sets the targets for telecoms operators, and one of these targets is to reach rural and remote areas of the country. Nevertheless, while the private sector aims to achieve this goal, there is a challenge in terms of ensuring a return on investment. However, constructing fibre-optic infrastructure is not a viable option; this is not only because of the high costs involved but also because these areas make more use of phone services than data services. Therefore, in order to reach these places in a viable and efficient manner, the private sector is using microwave or very small aperture terminal transmission to meet consumer needs. While this technology may not be the best for transferring data, it works well for SMS and phone calls.
Where do you see room for public and private sector collaboration in enhancing network performance?
KHIN MAUNG SOE: Both the public and private sectors are responsible for driving growth in Myanmar’s telecoms sector. As such, the best way to further develop the industry is for the government and private companies to coordinate their efforts in the interest of enhancing the value of the sector as a whole. If these bodies work together to upgrade network facilities and implement new technologies, the sector will be able to achieve better performance and greater efficiency. However, this does require financial and technical support, and there are limits to public investment. Therefore, the best way for the government to contribute is by providing the right expertise and regulatory framework for both local and foreign private investors.
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