Myanmar mobile growth beats expectations with 18.1m active users

12 May 2015

Myanmar’s burgeoning mobile market expanded to at least 18.1 million active users by the end of March 2015, more than double the figure reported a year ago and up from an estimated 4.4 million subscribers in March 2013. Until August 2014 the market was served by a single state-owned provider, Myanmar Post and Telecommunication (MPT), which had limited coverage and severe limitations on its ability to distribute SIMs to the public. The arrival of international telecoms groups Telenor and Ooredoo in H2 2014, combined with a partnership between MPT and Japanese investors KDDI Summit Global Myanmar (KSGM) broke the bottleneck on SIM supply, expanded coverage to previously unserved areas and brought down prices.

For its part, Telenor has reported that it had signed up 6.4 million active subscribers by end-March 2015 – of which 58% were regular data users – compared to 3.4 million in December 2014, and just 281,000 three months earlier. The demand for services has taken the Norwegian-backed cellco by surprise, with Reuters quoting Telenor CEO Jon Frederik Baksaas as commenting that: ‘The Myanmar economy has had more money in circulation than we had originally expected.’ In its quarterly report for the period ended 31 March 2015, Telenor noted that its network now consists of more than 1,700 sites, serving 185 of the nation’s 330 townships, but given the ‘strong demand for digital services in this connectivity-hungry nation,’ it would ‘ramp up network investment.’

Ooredoo, meanwhile, has signed up 3.3 million customers, up from 2.2 million in Q4 2014. More than 80% of the cellco’s subscribers utilise smartphones, generating an average monthly ARPU of USD7, driven by services offered over its 3G-only network, the operator noted. As at end-March 2015, Ooredoo’s network covered 28 million people (around 55% of the population), including all major cities and half of all townships.

MPT, by contrast, has actually seen a decline in subscribers, with the number of active users falling from 11.0 million in January 2015 to 8.4 million at end-March 2015. Nevertheless, MPT remains the largest operator by subscribers, representing around 46.4% of the sector, and its modernisation programme is expected to see it win back many of its lost subscribers. Indeed, to that end, the operator launched a new set of flexible tariffs, dubbed ‘Swe Thahar’ in January 2015 and on 31 March 2015 MPT rolled out a Dual Carrier (DC)-HSPA+ upgrade to its 3G networks in Mandalay and Bagan, having previously launched the technology in Yangon. Further, by mid-2015 MPT plans to roll out 3G services to its entire mobile footprint and to 70% of the Myanmar territory by end-2016.

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