ANALYSIS: Myanmar's untouched potential

30 April 2013 |


A staggering 91 companies expressed an interest in acquiring two mobile licences in Myanmar. This figure has now been whittled down to 12.

The remaining companies, which include a range of global powerhouses, such as China Mobile, Bharti Airtel, MTN and Vodafone are now looking at a market where there is immense growth potential.

And as market commentators continue to lament on the increasing maturity of the telecoms industry as a whole, Myanmar remains one of the few countries in the world which provides a global company with the power to truly exert its presence from scratch.

Andrew Kwok, president of international business at Hutchison Global Communications (HGC), has been working in the country from an infrastructure standpoint since 2008, and said he is surprised at the rapid development of the market.

"It is the sheer pace of development that surprises me," he said. "Two years ago the whole political and regulatory environment was moving fast, and it has attracted a lot of corporations. As one of the only established players in the market, we don't rule out the possibility of finding partnerships after the licences are handed out."

The potential Myanmar holds is indeed exciting, and consultancy firm Deloitte cited the country as its one to watch for telecommunications developments for the future in a 2012 report.

It stated: "There remains great hope for Myanmar's telecommunications sector despite the amount of groundwork that needs to be developed in order to improve the overall market."

When government officials announced the spectrum auction in January, a statement read that its aims were: "to increase the overall tele-density of the country from 75% to 80% by 2015-2016, to make the telecommunications services available to the public at affordable prices in both urban and rural areas, and to give the citizens and the enterprises the capability to choose their telecommunications services."

With so many bidders from so many nations, there will be a broad contrast as to what strategy these companies hold for the country. Several of these players have already started making plans for utilisation of a successful win, with Vodafone pledging to answer the country's call for mobile money systems. Vodafone may roll out its M-Pesa mobile payment service, if successful in the auction, as it sees the country as underdeveloped and in need of growth not only in its banking but also its mobile sector.

"It is pretty much a greenfield so we could jump ahead on technologies quickly," Nick Read, chief executive for Vodafone in Africa, told reporters. Launched in 2007, the M-Pesa service is designed to provide an efficient and secure method of transferring money via customer mobiles.

MTN is another pre-qualified applicant for the mobile licence and Sifiso Dabengwa, chief executive of the South African operator, has praised the bidding process thus far and sees Myanmar as a country with huge potential.

"This is a one off," he said. "It is a Greenfield which every operator is interested in."

The huge interest in Myanmar's auction only heightens the country's growing reputation as a lucrative market, confirming to carriers that the country has much to offer the wholesale industry.

"Myanmar is a large undeveloped country and so although there are significant risks there is also the potential for significant reward," Robert Bratby, managing partner for Asia at specialist business law firm Olswang, told Capacity.

"It needs significant capital investment to quickly deploy a national network. Connectivity is a key enabler for growth in the wider economy, so the benefits will be much wider than the telecoms sector."

Myanmar's auction also has an air of ambiguity which adds to its appeal.

"It is actually objective and transparent," Bratby explained.

"This means that it is difficult to predict a winner as in contrast to the processes run in some jurisdictions none of the bidders seem to have the inside track."

Failed pre-qualifiers and Hong-Kong conglomerate, First Pacific Group, is one example of a company that is not giving up hope, and is looking to team up with one of the other qualifiers for a chance to bid in the auction. First Pacific Group was among the initial 22 bidders through its unit the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), but was rejected as a final bidder as it does not have a foreign partner.

"The requirement of Myanmar is that to prequalify you must have operations that are under your control, outside your home base," said Manuel Pangilinan, chairman at First Pacific Group. First Pacific's attempts to enter Myanmar in some way could prove a common theme among those which didn't make the cut. Seemingly, most operators want to enter the country in any way they can.
 
Regulators hope to close the auction and announce the winning bidders on June 27.