The Economist: “Telecoms in Myanmar – Mobile mania”
Jan 24th 2015
ON THE outskirts of Bago, a scruffy town in southern Myanmar, a tall, pale Scandinavian-looking man squints up at a four-legged telecoms mast that has recently sprouted next to a mud track. He is Petter Furberg, the boss of the Burmese operations of Telenor, a Norwegian mobile-telecoms operator. He concludes that more towers will be needed to provide the town with adequate coverage, and asks his contractors to put up some more. The job done, Telenor switched on its service in Bago on January 13th.
Myanmar, with a bigger population than Spain, is one of the last great “unphoned” countries. In 2013 its military-backed government invited bids for the right to build its first modern mobile networks. The services that Telenor and Ooredoo, a Qatari rival, began to roll out last year are a crucial step towards reanimating an economy anaesthetised by five decades of dictatorship. Studies by Ericsson, a network-equipment supplier and McKinsey, a consulting firm, suggest that Myanmar’s mobile roll-out could create more than 90,000 new jobs and help to sustain annual economic growth of 8%-plus.
The roll-out will bring social upheaval. Ross Cormack, Ooredoo’s boss in Myanmar, reckons the number of Facebook users there has roughly doubled since his network launched. Ooredoo has promised to give free tools and training to 30,000 rural women to help them sell SIMs and airtime to their neighbours. Romain Caillaud of Vriens & Partners, a political and business consulting firm, says smartphones are already helping small farmers to improve productivity and outwit grasping middlemen by checking price information online.
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