Telenor opens up on Myanmar challenges

Telenor opens up on Myanmar challenges

20 AUG 2014

Telenor has laid out the unique challenges posed by building mobile networks in the untapped region of Myanmar, including a struggling legal framework and instances of child labour.

Telenor Myanmar CEO Petter Furberg briefed the media yesterday on how the company is addressing the widespread risks and uncertainties of doing business in what many say is the last greenfield telecoms market in the world, which is now coming out of isolation.

Furberg was keen to stress that until the country’s telecom rules are formally in place, it will not accept requests for lawful intercept.

As part of its licence, Furberg said the company cannot hand out private information without a court order.

“The ministry has agreed and publicly stated the rules for lawful intercept will be drafted in coordination with an independent, international organisation, and then will be open for consolation.”

He stressed that the company needs to have processes in place before it can respond to any request for information.

The telecoms law has been submitted by the government for review by the attorney general’s office. “It’s not devastating for us that it has yet to pass, but the rules are important for licensing, interconnect and spectrum allocation,” he commented.

He said Telenor is on track to launch service in the three main cities by the end of September.

Unlike its rival Ooredoo, with a planned single 3G network, Furberg said it is aiming for the masses, which requires both 2G and 3G networks “because the cheapest phones in the world are still 2G. To connect a population that is poor, you have to provide 2G connectivity.”

He said its IT and core network are ready. “The biggest issue we face is related to site roll-outs – building towers and erecting base stations.”

Furberg went into great detail, with numerous examples of detected breaches (including under-age workers), and about the specific actions the company is taking to reduce risk and ensure the sustainability of its business in the country, which lacks many of the simplest institutions that most nations have had for centuries.

The country’s institutional side has not evolved for 50 years and lacks the human resources with the relevant skills, he said. And officials are generally overwhelmed by the overall reform processes – not just related to telecoms.

“When we come with hundreds of requests for tower approvals at the local office, which never had to deal with tower approvals, only building permits, it also lacks the processes for handling these things,” Furberg noted.

The company has seen slow progress related to build permit approvals and lease registrations, which he said are typically at the local level.

The country’s legal framework, he said, requires a radical reform. The government is working hard to pass new legislation, with 37 laws signed by the president last year and another 37 signed this year.

But 137 laws are pending a decision by the government. On top of the backlog, he said there are many conflicting laws on the books. For example, the investment law defines that foreign companies can lease land for up to 50 years. But the land law says foreign companies can lease land for just one year.

Of course, this is confusing for local officials, he added.

Asked how much of an advantage the state-owned incumbent MPT – with 2,000 existing base stations and established local connections – has over the two foreign players in securing land rights and permits, Furberg said: “We do not as a rule comment on competition. This is a market question and this briefing is only to cover sustainability updates.”

For more on the challenges facing Ooredoo and Telenor, watch our exclusive video feature.


Joseph Waring

Joseph Waring joins Mobile World Live as the Asia editor for its new Asia channel. Before joining the GSMA, Joseph was group editor for Telecom Asia for more than ten years. In addition to writing features, news and blogs, he...

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