Seven foreign companies have submitted applications to enter Myanmar’s fast-growing telecoms market as the government moves forward on plans to award a fourth mobile licence this year.

The companies, which the government did not name, are keen to take a piece of the country’s lucrative mobile segment, which has expanded from 15 million connections to 36.6 million over the past year, according to GSMA Intelligence.

The state-owned incumbent, MPT — which now operates as a joint venture with Japan’s KDDI and Sumitomo — has seen its market share dive from 100 per cent in June 2014, the month before Telenor and Ooredoo entered the market, to 46 per cent at the end of last year.

The foreign firms are looking to duplicate the success of the newcomers, which last quarter topped MPT with a combined subscriber base of almost 20 million. But the country’s mobile penetration rate has jumped from 11 per cent, when the two foreign operators won the bid in June 2013, to more than 67 per cent last quarter.

In addition, the winning firm will join a consortium of 11 little-known local companies, led by state-owned Yatanarpon Teleport (YTP). The consortium, Myanmar National Telecom, will hold a 51 per cent stake in the venture, while the international partner will have a 49 per cent interest.

A report from Reuters points to the risks of dealing with obscure local companies in a country where some firms and executives are still targeted by US sanctions. The news agency also noted connections to “the military are not uncommon and reputational risk remains high”.

YTP, a local ISP, has long said it wanted to form a consortium of local partners to bid for the fourth licence. Vietnam’s Viettel had shown interest in entering Myanmar, but a deal with Redlink Communications fell through, according to Reuters.

The Myanmar government extended its original deadline for foreign operators to submit expressions of interest from 18 December to 8 January. In November it appointed Roland Berger, the consultant hired to advise on the 2013 tender, to select the partner.

The fourth licence, which will be awarded by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, will be valid for 15 years and can be renewed for an additional 10 years. The terms will be the same as the licences given to Telenor and Ooredoo in 2013.

The country has three operators up and running. Last year MPT nearly doubled its user base to 16.8 million, but still lost market share as Telenor grew rapidly. Telenor had 14 million connections at the end of 2015 and a 38 per cent market share, according to GSMA Intelligence. Ooredoo, meanwhile, had 5.8 million subscribers and a 16 per cent share.