UPDATED 21-11: Myanmar’s government will release 4G spectrum as soon as operators are prepared to offer the faster mobile broadband service, the Myanmar Times reported.
Deputy minister of Communications and Information Technology U Thaung Tin said it is ready to supply the required spectrum, without mentioning how it would be made available or the specific spectrum band. Market watchers expect it to be the 1.8GHz band and for the government to call a tender as it did with 2G and 3G spectrum in 2013.
The country’s three mobile operators, however, are in no hurry to invest in 4G networks as they work to expand coverage across the country of 65 million people and voice and data tariffs continue to fall.
State-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) and Telenor Myanmar operate 2G and 3G networks, while Ooredoo Myanmar has rolled out a 3G-only network. Both foreign players, which launched service just over a year ago, have invested heavily to enter the market, where mobile penetration (unique subscribers) has more than doubled to 31.6 per cent in one year.
KDDI-backed MPT is expected to invest about $2 billion in the country over the next ten years. Ooredoo has committed to investing $15 billion in the country over five years to provide coverage to 97 per cent of the population.
In July MPT reduced the price of voice calls from MMK35 (2.7 cents) to MMK23 (1.8 cents) a minute, putting pressure on its two foreign rivals. In May, after Ooredoo introduced a promotion offering data at MMK6 per megabyte, Telenor responded with an MMK5 per megabyte rate just hours later. Ooredoo had earlier cut its pay-as-you-go internet rates from MMK10 per megabyte to MMK6 to match Telenor’s offer.
Both Telenor and Ooredoo said they will only look to move to 4G after a sufficient number of customers have LTE-enabled handsets, which will require prices of 4G smartphones to come down.
A more pressing issue than 4G is the expected entry of a fourth mobile player, in the form of a consortium of 11 local companies, led by state-owned Yatanarpon Teleport (YTP), which is looking for investment from a foreign partner.
The government this week appointed Roland Berger, the consultant hired to advise on the 2013 tender, to select the international partner.
The consortium will hold a 51 per cent stake in the venture and the international partner will have a 49 per cent interest.
YTP, a local ISP, has long said it wanted to form a consortium of local partners to bid for the country’s fourth mobile licence, while Vietnam’s Viettel has previously shown interest in entering the Myanmar market.
According to GSMA Intelligence, the country had 31.6 million mobile connections at the end of September, up from 9.3 million in Q3 2014. MPT had a 48 per cent market share, while Telenor had a 37 per cent share and Ooredoo a 15 per cent share.