Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is infamous for pervasive human rights violations committed by a military junta which has been ruling the country for decades. Perhaps it is therefore not surprising that Human Rights Watch, the international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, has complained that a contemplated telecommunications law would also be violating the freedom of expression.
In large part to overcome these negative images of and to modernize the country he rules, President Thein Sein and his government has launched a series of political and economic reforms. Pride of place among those is a massive upgrade of the telecom sector. The measure is much needed.
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, early this month, closed its public consultation on its proposed rules for the country’s telecommunications sector, which covers areas such as licensing, access and interconnection, spectrum, numbering, and competition. As anticipated, the draft rules included proposals for the issuance of additional telecoms licences in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s telecom sector was woefully starved of investment and expertise. Basic mobile voice coverage was less than 5 per cent, and internet access penetration less than that.
However, since taking power in 2011, reforms led by President Thein Sein have dramatically changed the attractiveness of Myanmar as a destination for investment, with the modernisation of the telecom sector being one of the first to be targeted.
While a lot still needs to happen to turn aspiration into reality, Myanmar looks set to receive significant investment by two wholly foreign-owned operators (Ooredoo and Telenor) as well as two local operators in partnership with minority foreign operators.
The new entrants have been signing-up to multibillion-dollar investments to achieve coverage in excess of 80 per cent for both voice and data and the Myanmar telecoms market is undergoing rapid change and expansion.
In June, when the two foreign companies, Qatar’s Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor, won the coveted rights to operate telecommunications networks in Myanmar—a country ahead of only North Korea in cellphone penetration—its 60 million people and watchful investors believed a revolution was at hand.
But four months later, the two operators, remain in the dark about the rules they’ll operate under. They also lacked the actual licenses they won the bidding for, holding them back from rolling out technology to modernize the sector, and delaying the day when Myanmar’s networks are on par with its Asian neighbors’.
Despite the challenges, Telenor and Ooredoo express optimism, describing Myanmar as one of the last untapped telecom market in the world.
In a step forward, Digicel Asian Holdings, a consortium of Digicel Group, Yoma Strategic and First Myanmar Investment Co Ltd (FMI), announced that it has signed an agreement with Ooredoo Myanmar to develop, construct and lease telecommunications towers in Myanmar.
Digicel’s Myanmar unit, Myanmar Tower Company, will be among the first telecommunications tower companies to begin construction in the Southeast Asian country. Through its multi-tenancy towers, it will help all telecommunications operating firms achieve their aim of rapidly deploying telecommunications coverage across the country, according to Digicel Group.
Ooredoo to launch 3G services in Myanmar next year
Ooredoo Myanmar will introduce 3G mobile services nationwide in 2014, according to company sources.
To achieve this, the operator has selected Nokia Solutions and Networks as the key supplier for its radio and core equipment and services. Ooredoo’s subscribers in Myanmar will soon have access to advanced mobile broadband services. “This initiative underlines our commitment to deliver world-class communications services to our customers in Myanmar, who will soon enjoy a great customer experience with our network,” said Ross Cormack, chief executive officer at Ooredoo Myanmar.
“We are confident of NSN’s capabilities to help deliver our vision of becoming the service provider-of-choice across Myanmar.”
Under the two-year agreement, NSN will build a complete 3G radio access network (RAN) on 900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands based on its compact and energy-efficient Flexi Multiradio 10 Base Station and Multicontroller Radio Network Controller (mcRNC).
These high-capacity and flexible platforms will provide great coverage and capacity for Ooredoo Myanmar, said Cormack, enabling it to roll out new services quickly and efficiently while managing its rapidly increasing traffic growth. As the supplier to Ooredoo Myanmar’s core network, NSN will provide its Liquid Core-based open Mobile Switching Center Server (MSS) and open Media Gateway (MGW). The company will also supply Evolved Packet Core (EPC) ready equipment, including Flexi NS (network server) and Flexi NG (network gateway).
The contract also includes NSN’s Subscriber Data Management (SDM) systems to enable a centralised database repository that is independent of the application used. NSN will also provide its NetAct management system to ensure consolidated configuration, monitoring and network optimization for Ooredoo Myanmar’s 3G network. The company will also provide insights into the customer experience.
The scope of the deal includes network implementation, planning and optimization, systems integration and care services including hardware, software and competence development services.
“This deal marks our entry into Myanmar and is therefore of great significance for NSN,” said Paul Tyler, senior vice president of Asia Pacific at NSN. “As Ooredoo Myanmar’s partner, we will leverage our expertise to build a network that will enable exciting new services for customers in Myanmar. Together with Ooredoo Myanmar, we will facilitate the evolution of the country’s communications industry.”
Following the announcement on June 27 that Ooredoo Myanmar had been successful in its bid for one of the two mobile telecommunications licences in Myanmar, Ooredoo the firm has laid the foundation for its business to become an integral part of the local community.
In October, Ooredoo Group announced the appointment of Ross Cormack to lead operations in Myanmar. Ooredoo Myanmar will offer a wide range of mobile communications services beyond voice and data to improve the lives of Myanmar’s consumers and help businesses run more efficiently.
This will include the development of a comprehensive portfolio of services including mobile money services, a range of mobile health services, and services to support farmers and agriculture, all of which the company has launched in other markets. Ooredoo Myanmar will roll out these services using a large distribution network that will quickly reach beyond Myanmar’s cities into the country’s rural areas. The company will use this network across 3G networks using 900 and 2100 frequencies, thus bringing data services to where there has previously only been voice.
NSN is a specialist in mobile broadband wholly owned by Nokia Corporation. From the first ever call on GSM to the first call on LTE, NSN has operated at the forefront of each generation of mobile technology. With headquarters in Espoo, Finland, NSN operates in more than 120 countries and had net sales of approximately 13.4 billion euros (Ks 17.95 trillion) last year.