Interview: Liman Zhang
How has the government worked to develop and advance the capacity and quality of the telecommunications sector?
LIMAN ZHANG: In terms of the ICT industry, the government has taken an important step in developing the sector. The announcement of the first draft of the ICT master plan at the Myanmar Connect forum in September 2015 was a welcomed initiative that demonstrates the government’s commitment. The plan is very clear and will assist the industry from an investment perspective. The public sector has also laid out clear investment policies such as the Foreign Investment Law, which has encouraged the arrival of the international operators. Although progress has been made, there is still room for the government to improve the efficiency of certain processes and procedures.
Myanmar is a large country with a diverse landscape, so one of the challenges is providing nationwide coverage, especially for hard-to-reach villages. If the government can assist with certain facilities to reduce the digital gap it will help promote the economic growth of the country.
What potential exists for collaboration between the public and private sectors in the ICT industry in Myanmar?
ZHANG: The government has put a plan in place that has allowed for the arrival of international companies, which bring with them better technology and processes coupled with their experience working in other emerging and developed markets.
The country is already reaping the rewards of improved cooperation between the public and private sectors. A top priority for collaboration between the two is the transfer of skills and knowledge. One area that companies can develop is local talent. It is vital that the private sector assist in the development of the labour market through knowledge transfer. One objective should be to empower staff so that all senior positions are one day held by Myanmar nationals. Foreign companies have an opportunity to share their global experiences and international practices to promote the ease of doing business in Myanmar.
What have been the biggest challenges when expanding the telecoms network?
ZHANG: Certain legislation, rules and laws are a little complex and therefore lack consistency. One problem in particular is delays in the approval process. Developing a site can be unnecessarily difficult because obtaining critical certificates and documents is a slightly complex procedure. This may slow down the development process. This same problem of certificates hampers things on the import side of the equation as well. If imports are delayed then network deployment is delayed, and thus the customer may suffer from congestion and the operator can possibly suffer from delayed revenue. So the import process is one area that can definitely become more efficient.
An unstable supply of electricity can also have a negative effect on the timely deployment of networks. This can lead to increased costs for the operators because you need to factor in the cost of adding generators and fuel to the site. While energy supply remains a challenge, the government has a dedicated plan to improve the situation. I believe that over time we will see clear and real improvements to the national energy grid.
Another challenge is a lack of infrastructure, which may create logistics problems. Good logistics is key to the end process and can reduce delays, but shortages remain in the areas of air, road and rail transport. However, improvements are being made. Prime examples of these efforts are the road to Naypyidaw and the railway to Mandalay.
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