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On The Road to Connectivity: Forum to Assess Critical Developments in Myanmar’s Telco Sector

News of the opening of Myanmar’s telecoms market to foreign investment captured headlines last year and with the licence winners beginning to launch their services, the excitement has moved to another level.

In a country with an estimated 10 percent mobile penetration, the new services are expected to cover 25 million of Myanmar’s approximately 60 million people by the end of the year, and 97 percent of the population within the next five years.

Meanwhile, as plans for the SEA-ME-WE 5 cable to land in Myanmar are finalised, infrastructure builds across the country are reaching fever pitch. As the roll-out of a faster and more accessible communications network gathers speed, all eyes are on Myanmar as a huge growth opportunity.

Last year’s launch of the forum Myanmar Connect brought together all four of the newly appointed licence holders for the first time. Twelve months on, Myanmar Connect 2014 will build on 2013’s platform and examine how much the operating environment has changed over the last year, the organisers said.

Highlighted by an opening address by U Myat Hein, union minister for communications and information technology, the agenda features market-leading speakers who will be debating and dissecting the critical developments in the communications ecosystem, with a focus on strategy, infrastructure and services driving both the industry and Myanmar’s socio-economic trajectory.

“Myanmar garnered a lot of attention, as it was perceived as the last ‘goldmine’ of Asia-Pacific,” said Andreas Hipp, CEO of Epsilon, one of the speakers due to take the stage at conference this year.

“A lot of attention and investment has gone in and finally the mobile licence has been issued. But looking at how long that took to unfold and given it’s not so easy in the execution, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Until now, the country’s sole telecoms provider has been state-run Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT), but Ooredoo has just launched its telecoms services in Myanmar and Telenor plans to launch its own in September. However some analysts believe that MPT may have the upper hand over its foreign rivals.

“As a locally owned entity, MPT can roll out a network faster – at least in theory – because it can hold land without restrictions,” said Edwin Vanderbruggen of law firm VDB Loi, a sponsor of Myanmar Connect 2014, which has offices in Myanmar and neighbouring countries.

“Foreign-owned companies have to jump through more hoops and that might slow things down.”

According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the licences are expected to increase overall teledensity in the region, as well as deliver affordable public services to both rural and urban areas of the country.

Ross Cormack, CEO of Ooredoo Myanmar, also a speaker at Myanmar Connect 2014, said that the company hopes to help empower communities with telecommunications.

“We are working to develop a vibrant communications ecosystem that places Ooredoo at the heart of every community, fostering local entrepreneurial talent, creating jobs for local people and offering opportunities for local businesses,” Cormack said.

One of the main hurdles that has slowed down the momentum in developments has been the building of towers and infrastructure. However, state-run MPT has teamed up with Japanese wireless player KDDI and the financial firm Sumitomo Corp to invest $2 billion over the next decade in infrastructure and the launch of mobile and broadband services in the country.

The organisers said the future plans for the trio will be discussed during the Myanmar Connect 2014 operator keynote presentations: “Strategic Insights” and “Planning”. In addition there will be interviews with the executives tasked with building out Myanmar’s roll-out, in which they will discuss the challenges of land ownership, managing a skilled workforce and connecting challenging geographies, they added.

Myanmar Connect 2014 will take place in Nay Pyi Taw on 16-17 September.

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