Myanmar continues to offer opportunities for new entrants
Five years after Myanmar’s telecoms sector liberalised, outsiders are still investing. James Pearce looks at the opportunities offered in the former Burma
ricsson identified the Myanmar telecoms market in 2014 as one of the fastest growing in the world. The liberalisation of the sector saw new entrants and significant growth, with the vendor naming it the fourth fastest growing market globally.
To put this in perspective, with a population of around 54 million people the country is the 26th largest in the world, according to the UN, but for the final quarter of 2014, it provided 6% of all new global mobile subscriptions. With 87 million subscribers added globally in the quarter, Myanmar contributed more than five million in October-December 2014.
According to figures from the GSMA, SIM penetration has now reach 98% in the country that was better known as Burma until 1989. That means 52.8 million people have access to mobiles – mostly prepaid services. There’s a significant amount of mobile broadband subscriptions too.
Even though the market is nearing penetration, it continues to grow – the number of connections increased by 9.15% in the year to Q4 2017. It also continues to be an attractive market for outside investors.
Ooredoo and Telenor entered in 2013 following the liberalisation of the telecoms sector in Myanmar, and their arrival shook up the market. More recently, HGC Global Communications made a move by snapping up a majority stake in Myanmar service provider Golden TMH Telecom (GTMH).
The deal, should it be backed by regulators, will make HGC one of the first Hong Kong-based telecoms companies to tap into and invest in the growing Myanmar telecoms market.
Myat Thuzar Than, Myanmar’s consul-general in Hong Kong, said: "The agreement between HGC and GTMH is a breakthrough to the telecommunications industry in Myanmar and also a huge boost for the economic development for the country as well as ASEAN in the long term. We are pleased that the potential and bright prospects of Myanmar are recognised by a leading global carrier and I believe this can bring both companies and the economies a great success."
HGC and GTMH, which was launched in 2014, already work together, having earlier this year launched infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solutions for Myanmar enterprises, with both hardware and software as part of the cloud virtual machine hosting service.
The agreement marks the first overseas expansion of HGC’s local fixed-line services business after its acquisition by I Squared Capital (IQC) and the deal enables the extension of its coverage in Myanmar. HGC was sold to IQC by CK Hutchison for $1.9 billion in 2017 and was later rebranded as HGC Global Communications.
Andrew Kwok, CEO of HGC, said: "HGC has been in collaboration with GTMH since 2014. With our experience and success in Hong Kong and international business, we believe that the investment will bring more opportunities to HGC and GTMH as well as the telecommunications industry of Myanmar."
He added: "The investment once again showcases a successful example of our determination and ambition to extend our business outside Hong Kong as well as to strengthen our position in the region."
In March 2018 Myanmar welcomed its fourth mobile operator – Mytel, which is part of a joint venture between Vietnam’s Viettel and a subsidiary of the military-run Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). The other operator is state-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), the market leader.
Mytel has said it intends to provide coverage to at least 95% of Myanmar’s population and attract five million subscribers by 2020, meaning there is significant opportunities for partners to work with it.
Beyond this, SoftBank’s BBIX recently launched a new joint venture in neighbouring Thailand and identified Myanmar as a key market for future expansion. The partnership, with Thailand’s True Internet Data Center, aims to provide carrier neutral and low latency internet exchange peering services in the country.
With satellite provider Intelsat already announcing an expansion of its wireless backhaul services in the country earlier this year, it is clear that Myanmar is a country that continues to offer significant investment opportunities to those looking for new growth markets.