Doha: Ooredoo began selling low-cost SIM cards in Myanmar yesterday, opening up access to mobile services in one of the world’s last virtually untapped phone markets.
Less than 10 percent of the population are thought to have access to a telephone in Myanmar where the exorbitant cost of a SIM under former junta rule made mobile phones a luxury.
But last year the reformist government led by President Thein Sein awarded telecom licences to Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor, part of a wider move to open up markets previously monopolised by state firms.
“This is history that we made here today,” Ooredoo Myanmar CEO, Ross Cormack, told a press conference in capital Yangon.
He said the firm was bringing the very latest technologies to the long-isolated nation.
The SIM card was officially launched for sale yesterday in the major cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw at a price of 1,500 kyat ($1.5), a fraction of the cost of ordinary cards in Myanmar which retail at about $200. Under junta rule a SIM could go for more than $1,500.
Ooredoo billboards advertising traditionally-garbed women holding a parasol in one hand and a mobile in the other have plastered downtown Yangon streets for weeks, helping build a buzz around the launch.
Several million SIM cards will be on sale from 6,500 dealers, according to Cormack, ahead of a wider rollout to cover 68 towns and cities, around and including the three hubs launched yesterday, by mid-August.
But some shops were reported to have started selling advance stock as early as last week with cases of vendors demanding above the retail price and selling out.
“I bought two SIM cards yesterday for 5,000 kyat each. The price is still very cheap if you compare it with what was previously available,” Khaing Moe, a university student, said.
Telenor, which also plans to sell its SIM cards for 1,500 kyat, said it would launch in September.
But the telecoms tender process eventually by Telenor and Ooredoo last June saw some 90 firms compete for the 15-year licences, the first to be awarded by Myanmar.
The two firms will soon compete against each other and existing state-owned giant Myanmar Post and Telecommunication for a potentially lucrative pool of customers among an estimated 60 million people.
The national company also started selling low-cost SIMs last year, but through a lottery system which is relatively small in scale, leaving many people to still rely on manned roadside stalls where they can use conventional telephones to keep in touch.
Alongside opportunities of entering one of the world’s few remaining frontier mobile markets are challenges of reaching scattered rural communities.
Patchy power, poor road connections and regulatory issues such as land rights are among the problems companies face in building a mobile network.
The growing Buddhist nationalist movement has also posed a threat.