Mobile telecoms stood out as a bright spot in Myanmar’s severely under developed national infrastructure sector over the past five years, but growth will be challenged by a lack of government resources, law company Baker McKenzie predicted.
In a report, the company revealed Myanmar’s economy expanded by an average of 7.5 per cent each year between 2012 and 2017, citing The Economist Intelligence Unit figures. It warned maintaining growth would require massive infratructure investments the government may not be able to meet alone.
Telecoms played a key part in the growth. Prior to a reform period which started in 2012, Myanmar had one of the world’s lowest rates of connectivity, with limited internet access and active SIM cards measured in the thousands, McKenzie Baker stated. The situation changed “virtually overnight” it noted, with more than 50 million SIM cards now active and some of the region’s fastest mobile internet speeds.
The entry of Telenor and Ooredoo in 2014 played a part in the rising subscriber numbers and data speeds. Data from wireless coverage mapping company OpenSignal showed Myanmar’s 3G networks delivered average download speeds of 4.79Mb/s, while similar networks in many other Asian and Southeast Asian nations had typical speeds of less than 3.5Mb/s.
McKenzie Baker forecast Myanmar will remain a high achiever worldwide, with economic growth of 7.3 per cent a year to 2022. However, the company noted sustaining the rate of growth will require massive investment from the government, development finance institutions and the private sector. If the investment is not delivered, the growing infrastructure gap could put the brakes on economic growth.
“The report highlights both the huge potential and the considerable challenges evident in Myanmar today,” said Andrew Staples, director of The Economist Corporate Network, Southeast Asia, and co-author of the report: “Improved infrastructure is perhaps the most important requirement for the continuation of Myanmar’s positive economic trajectory.”
Myanmar’s government is pushing to boost investment in the country’s infrastructure, particularly around power, water and transport, and officials are increasingly seeking overseas investors to support this push.
Latest data from GSMA Intelligence indicates Myanmar had a SIM penetration of 69 per cent in Q3, with state-owned MPT leading with 23 million mobile connections followed by Telenor Myanmar (19.2 million) and Ooredoo Myanmar (7.7 million). About 60 per cent of Ooredoo’s users are on 4G plans.