A smartphone love affair

Myanmar’s telecom boom is helping drive the country’s economy

A rapidly rising number of smartphone users has spurred the growth of Myanmar’s telecoms sector, industry players say.

Sunil Kamath, vice president for South Asia at Opera Software, says there has been an overall growth of internet users in Myanmar, given the aggregated data gathered from Opera Mini, a web browser for mobile phones.

“Around 87 per cent of Opera Mini users from Myanmar use smartphones. Android is the most popular operating system with 85 per cent of the market. This high proportion of smartphone users is strikingly different from other emerging markets, which still have a significant number of basic-phone users,” he explains.

Kamath adds that the number of Opera Mini users increased by over 330 per cent last year. The growth has been fuelled by the availability of cost-effective smartphones and educative initiatives taken by mobile operators, such as Telenor and Ooredoo.

“Affordable data plans are also a key driver in encouraging first-time users to go online from their mobile phones. I am confident that this trend will continue and more people will be empowered with the power of the web,” he said.

Telenor has partnered with Opera since November 2014. Sharad Mehrotra, chief marketing officer of Telenor Myanmar, says that the cooperation with Opera enables customers to access faster and more affordable internet from their mobile devices.

“Customers can access websites with Opera in both Zawgyi and Unicode fonts, for example, further extending our promise of enabling internet for all customers in Myanmar,” he said.

Mehrotra estimates that 65 per cent of Telenor SIM holders are already data users, most of whom use smartphones.

SIM sales on the rise

Since the entry of foreign players in 2013, the telecoms industry has boomed. According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the country’s mobile penetration rate has increased to over 50 per cent. In the 2015-16 fiscal year the penetration rate is expected to reach 80 per cent of the population. A survey by the New Crossroads Asia predicts 100 per cent mobile coverage by 2021.

Win Than, deputy communications minister, told a Lower House meeting on July 10 that Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) had sold more than 8.67 million SIM cards and earned Ks574.97 billion from top-up sales, as of June 15.

He said that Telenor had sold more than 7.45 million SIM cards and earned Ks92.84 billion from top-ups while Ooredoo sold more than 3.33 million SIMs and earned Ks64.15 billion in top-ups. Yet, Thiri Kyar Nyo, Ooredoo press officer, said those figures only measured up to March 31 and the second quarter figures would be announced in the weeks to come.

Network expansion

Petter Furberg, chief executive officer of Telenor Myanmar, says services were expanding rapidly into rural areas.

“We will over the coming months continue our pace of expansion to more areas around the country. Over and above expanding our coverage to new territories, we will also continue to invest in adding capacity and optimising quality in areas where we are already present,” he explains.

“Over the past few months, we have embarked on a focused initiative to deploy a number of innovative solutions to our network in urban centres, and feel confident that our customers can now enjoy a higher quality internet and voice experience.”

Telenor today has a network of more than 2,300 sites, covering more than 50 per cent of populated areas. The firm is expected to add between 3,000 and 4,000 towers by the end of this year. Earlier this week, Telenor launched its network in Loikaw, Kayah State. Kayah now becomes the 12th major area under Telenor’s coverage, joining Mandalay, Yangon, Sagaing, Bago, Magway, Ayeyawady, Kayin, Mon, Kachin, Shan and Nay Pyi Taw.

Recently, Ooredoo increased its network and built new towers in two regions – Ayeyawady and Sagaing – and three states – Kachin, Shan and Mon. Moreover, it has undergone network expansion in Yangon, Mandalay, Magway and Bago regions.

MPT, the nation’s first telecoms provider, plans to accelerate its geographic coverage to more than 70 per cent by 2016. So far, almost 100 per cent of MPT networks offer 3G mobile internet, says Takashi Nagashima, CEO of MPT-KDDI-Sumitomo joint operations.

Khin Maung Tun, general manager of MPT, says there have been a series of reforms since a partnership was signed with Japan’s KDDI and Sumitomo in July 2014.

“We are currently extending our network coverage to the whole of Myanmar. At the same time, we would like to provide the best service quality through our network. While we are extending our network towards rural areas, we will keep on increasing our network capacity,” he adds.

In an effort to attract more customers, MPT has reduced its voice tariff to Ks23 per minute, down from Ks35.

“We are sure many customers and businesses will join us to enjoy many more voice calls throughout the country thanks to the largest reach in Myanmar,” says Nagashima.

MPT announced it would lower fixed telephone line installation fees to Ks325,000 from the former rate of Ks650,000.

“Businesses often need fixed lines for the internet. By reducing the installation rates, we believe more people, and especially more businesses, will consider installing lines and we are happy to facilitate more access for new customers,” says Khin Maung Tun of MPT.

Both Telenor and Ooredoo have also reduced its data prices.

Opera’s report

Opera reported last week that said 60 per cent of all pages viewed on Opera Mini were on Facebook with Twitter coming second. News sites Elevenmyanmar.com and Irrawaddy.org were both in the top 10. Google and YouTube were in the top five but far below the social networks.

An analysis of the 100 most-used handsets shows that Huawei is the most popular manufacturer among Opera Mini users. Its handsets are owned by 38 per cent of Opera users followed by Samsung at 30 per cent.

Source: The Nation

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