The telecom market in Myanmar is about to enter a new era. Headlines of the past few days, two new telcos announced their incoming 4G launch.
First of them, Mytel officially launched its 4G network last Sunday during a ceremony in Nay Pyi Daw where the operator initiated the first call.
Mytel was awarded a mobile license in Myanmar in January 2017. The new mobile operator is a hefty joint venture between Star High Public Co Ltd which owns 28% stake, a consortium of eleven local companies that own 23% and finally the international telecom operator Viettel which owns the remaining 49%.
The 4th licensee announced that it will cover 90% of the country by the time of the launch and that it will start selling SIM cards next month. Mytel is planning to deploy 7,200 base stations, backed up by 33,000km of optic fiber cabling. The mobile operator makes the bet of a 4G-only network which is a bold move. Four years ago, Ooredoo took the risk of rolling out a 3G-only network with little success and finally decided to take a step back and activate 2G as well.
Myanmar is the 10th mobile network launched outside of Vietnam by Viettel. The Vietnam’s largest mobile network operator focus on expanding in emerging countries and has a reputation of being extremely aggressive price-wise.
Saying that, mobile data prices in Myanmar are already at an extremely low level compared to international standards. In December 2017, the three active mobile operators in Myanmar even decided to increase their prices back to sustain their network expansion. The current blended rate for mobile data in Myanmar is around $1 per GB.
101% mobile penetration reached in 2018
According to a recent survey by We Are Social, Myanmar just reached 101% penetration on mobile. This means that there is no untapped market anymore for Mytel which would have to steal subscribers from competition and work hard to become the second SIM of preference.
However, mobile data penetration still shows some significant room for growth which may incite Mytel to focus its complete strategy on data. Bad news for Ooredoo.
It is still unclear at that point what Mytel pricing strategy will be and if the telecom regulator will let them go lower than current market prices.
According to a recent article, Mytel officially requested the right to give away SIM cards for free! Even if this demand is not approved, this sends a strong signal to the market that the new operator is decided to gain market share at any cost. We trust Mytel will be creative to find ways around the guidelines and manage to release aggressive promotions into the Myanmar market.
After Mytel, Amara Communication is the second telecom provider to announce the launch of its 4G services in Myanmar this year.
Back in October 2016, Amara was awarded 20Mhz of 2.6Ghz spectrum. This allocation is a perfect fit for TDD-LTE, a technology used worldwide for 4G mobile broadband.
Note that Amara does not own a license for full fledge mobile services and will not be able to offer calls and SMS services like a mobile operator. The service will be limited to mobile broadband and any value added service sitting on top of broadband.
Amara is finally just another Internet service provider but a service provider that invested $123 million for a spectrum license available in only two regions. Therefore, the local consortium has an immense pressure to recover this investment. And its marketing launch clearly demonstrate that it is not playing in the same league than the existing service providers.
Giant billboards all over Yangon, outrageous launch party, the new 4G operator is definitely not from the same world. At least on paper.
Amara new brand is modestly called Ananda : Infinite in Myanmar. That is an inspiring marketing concept which definitely set some expectations considering mobile broadband is by essence limited. Limited in time and usually limited in volume. It will be interesting to see how Ananda will play around these limitations without making offense to its name.
From a technology perspective, Ananda will bring something unseen to the Burmese table. TDD-LTE is a mobile technology which is going to be used exclusively to build a broadband network. That means that the broadband service offered by Ananda will be mobile. It will probably take the shape of a mobile router or hotspot like the mobile operators currently sell in the market. But the plans sold on these new devices will be exclusively data-based. Customers could expect large plans with high speed that will allow them to replace their home broadband service.
Too little too late?
Ananda is late on schedule. Launch was expected months ago. Can it be fatal for the new comer?
If we look back, 2017 saw some significant change on the broadband market in Myanmar. These changes were beyond any reasonable forecast. It may be the reason why Yatanarpon decided to withdraw its application for 2.6ghz realizing the gigantic challenge it will be to break-even.
One year ago, broadband prices were 2-3 times what they are today and installation costs represented a big barrier to entry for home users. The market was divided between two technologies. Fiber which was reliable, fast but expensive to roll-out. With installation fees between $200 to $300, it definitely sets a barrier that was hard to cross for Myanmar consumers.
WiFi was therefore the technology of choice for quick and easy deployment. Still, setting up a WiFi point to multi-point service require the service provider to send a team for installation. The installation consists on an outdoor antenna on a pole cabled back to the customer apartment with a WiFi router to propagate the signal. This does not come cheap and installation cost varies between $80 to $150.
TDD-LTE on the other hand is a mobile technology and as such does not require any sort of installation. Consumer sign-up, bring its device home and can immediately enjoy Internet. That would have been a big market advantage for Amara one year ago.
Myanmar broadband price war
But the game has significantly changed in one year. Myanmar ISP’s got into a big price war, subsidizing the installation costs heavily. Some of the ISP’s in the market are on the verge to collapse and are desperately playing all in, taking inconsiderate risk to acquire and retain new customers.
The game has changed and Ananda is stepping into a battlefield with new rules. Since fiber providers are already giving installation for free, 4G big advantage fade away. Ananda cannot compete on price anymore and would have to adopt a different strategy if it wants to succeed.
Still, there is a big market opportunity for the new 4G comer if the execution is correct. Service quality, outstanding customer service, good technical support and new value added services such as IPTV and VoIP are lacking within the existing ISPs and should be the head lines to success.
Herbert is a nom de plume.
I am an experienced telecom professional blogging about the fastest growing Internet market in the world: Myanmar.