MPT picks up speed in telecoms race

State-owned telco Myanma Posts and Telecommunications lost its monopoly on the telecoms market last year, joining a three-horse race with international entrants Ooredoo and Telenor. As the incumbent, MPT was first out of the starting gate.

After signing a partnership with Japan’s KDDI Corporation and Sumitomo Corporation, it has quickly moved to modernise its operations and launch new tariff deals. Its latest mobile plan, Swe Thahar, cuts voice and SMS prices and changes the way MPT charges customers for internet usage, from by-the-minute to by-the-megabyte.

KDDI Summit Global Myanmar (KSGM) managing director Takashi Nagashima, MPT general manager Khin Maung Tun, chief technical officer Kenichi Ono and other company officials sat down with a small panel of journalists including The Myanmar Times on January 11 to discuss the challenges and opportunities of MPT’s plans to increase services for millions of Myanmar people while trimming prices to compete. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How many subscribers does MPT have now?
We have nearly 11 million currently active SIM customers. After the joint operation, 5 million SIM cards were distributed to the market. We don’t know how many SIM cards we sold before the joint operation. Among the 5 million SIM cards we distributed, average activation rate would be 90 percent. If people don’t use them for a while, [SIM cards] expire. So now including those who already lost their right to use [SIMs], we have 11 million activated users.

Why has MPT decided not to match competitors’ prices under its new Swe Thahar plan?
Not only in Myanmar, but in other countries telecom markets were opened and new operators challenged incumbent carriers with lower prices because their network coverage and more wasn’t big enough in comparison to the incumbent’s.

We don’t think we can charge more than others because we’re incumbent. We think we have to provide our service at affordable prices. MPT is still a part of the government, and has a big responsibility to Myanmar.

In Laos, Cambodia, and India, telecom operators started price wars early on. Then they can’t keep investing in their network. A large area still remains on 2G. It means the failure of the liberalisation of the market itself. If that kind of situation happens, the customer suffers the most. MPT thinks that in Myanmar, the nationwide network has not been completed yet. Our first priority should be to establish a nationwide network, and next, to provide services at affordable prices. We would like to contribute to Myanmar customers by providing better services, or new services. We should not be satisfied with higher prices than competitors, but we need to keep improving and providing better customer experiences. If we go now into a “price war”, we are worried that we cannot invest in area expansion and other necessary services.

Can you explain MPT’s new internet tariff on Swe Thahar?
In many countries the technology has advanced and we need to charge by volume. It’s an international standard. Also, with time-based charges, we can ensure fair charges if the speed is really slow. Once the speed becomes very fast, we cannot ensure fair charges if we charge by time. Some people might watch videos and occupy a large portion of the line.

[The new tariff] compared to the previous tariff with the slow speed, it’s really similar, or depends on the situation.

How fast is the internet with Swe Thahar?
The maximum theoretical speed [when the network is used by only one person] will be 21mbps for the moment. Very soon we will introduce 42mbps. As of now you can enjoy 2-4mbps in downtown, and more than 5mbps in Yangon suburban areas like Mayangone.

What distinguishes MPT from its competitors?
Technically, like regarding [the 3G technology] HSPA+, there are not big differences between ourselves and Ooredoo and Telenor. The radio frequency allocated for each carrier is also limited.

Then what will be the difference made by the carrier’s effort? Area coverage and quality of services.
We have been improving by designing the best placement of base stations, adjusting the angle of antenna, etc. We will continue making efforts for better network experiences.

One area where there may be a difference is land use. Does MPT have privileged access to government land for tower-building?
Not only competitors but we, MPT, are also struggling to build new towers. We are not getting special benefits from government for building new towers.

As long as the land is used by MPT right now, we can use it. But other government land, they may charge a little much, maybe. [laughs]

In the future, what percentage of MPT’s towers will be shared?
Tower quality should be the big problem for the tower-sharing. We are now making many, many big [improvements] for many, many towers.

So in the future, we may share almost all the towers [if] required from other places, but right now … a very limited number of towers can be shared. Still, we are now talking with other operators, Ooredoo and Telenor, to share these towers. Maybe. Less than 100.

Regarding tower sharing, we have been assessing our towers’ robustness because existing MPT towers are fragile and cannot bear heavy weight to share them with others. Once these assessments are finished, MPT will start sharing.

How will MPT address CDMA phones?
CDMA requires special development so we haven’t prepared for it right now. We will announce separately how to deal with CDMA. But one thing that we want to say is that we don’t to plan to terminate CDMA.

MPT has been paying income taxes and a contribution to the government, but is it collecting the 5 pc tax on telecoms?
No. We are waiting for some instructions to be issued by the government. If the government orders us to collect a tax from our end users, we may need to do so. But right now, no.

Have there been freezes on B2B fibre installation?
It takes a very long time to complete the installation. But right now, we haven’t stopped system installation. [Last year] it was very slow, so it takes a very long time to complete that job. But right now, we’re gradually improving. We are thinking to do some fibre services to consumers also, but some years or some [time] later.

[We are] not signing up [new customers], we have tons of back-orders. So that should be the problem.

Will MPT launch more branded shops, as it currently has one?
We have divided Myanmar into 17 regions, and each region will open two branded shops.

In the future, will MPT provide LTE service?
We will provide for LTE. However, the licence for LTE will be issued much later. We may need to wait maybe from two to three years to get the right to apply. Still we will prepare for the situation. … maybe five years or something.


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