Myanmar’s telco revolution opens new chapter

YANGON — Myanmar is three years into a telecoms boom that has changed the physical and technological landscape of the country with unparalleled speed. Since the sector was opened to foreign competition in 2014, thousands of mobile towers have sprung up around the country and more than 30,000km of fiber cable has been connected. Mobile penetration has jumped from 10% to well over 70%, while internet speeds have soared and data usage has increased 1,500 times over.

The first phase was infrastructure. The second phase now taking off is a race to create online content and services to provide consumers with everything from Korean TV dramas and Myanmar pop music to medical support and education.

“You’re going to see all these doctors and nurses consulting on live video,” said Wai Lin Tun, the chief executive of local internet provider Frontiir, at an industry conference in Naypyitaw called “Myanmar Connect” held mid-September. “This is not 10 or 20 years away, you’re going to see it happen in the next two to five years,” he added.

The country’s leading tech and innovation hub, Phandeeyar, is about to welcome the next round of startups to its accelerator program. The new cohort includes an app for students to find tutors online and another allowing hospitals and clinics to access digital medical records, said Phandeeyar Chief Executive Jes Kaliebe Petersen.

Much of the industry’s focus, however, is on entertainment rather than education. Malaysian video-on-demand provider iflix joined competitor Netflix in the Myanmar market in March. French cable TV channel Canal+ announced earlier this year that it had partnered with local media company Forever Group to enter Myanmar. Meanwhile, local players like Pyone Play and Mahar have launched online streaming services devoted to local content.

“You’re seeing firms buy up the rights to Myanmar movies and TV shows to provide it on a single online service,” said Ye Myat Min, founder of Yangon-based tech company Nexlabs. “Musicians are looking for new platforms to stream their music.”

This is prompting a wave of partnerships between companies providing internet services — including the three operational telco providers Ooredoo Myanmar, Telenor Myanmar and state-owned MPT — and companies offering content. Iflix announced a partnership with Ooredoo in June.

MPT, which has joint operations with Japanese giants KDDI and Sumitomo, will soon form partnerships with “various content providers,” said Yoshiaki Benino, chief operating officer of MPT-KDDI Sumitomo global operations.

London-listed Myanmar social media company MySQUAR announced on Oct. 19 it had signed a memorandum of understanding with other local companies to provide free wi-fi on the national rail network. Users paying for streaming content is expected to form part of the revenue stream, MySQUAR said.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

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