Myanmar ready to release 4G spectrum as competition intensifies

The government of Myanmar has stated that it will make 4G spectrum available to operators as soon as they are able to begin providing commercial services.

U Thaung Tin, Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Communications and Information Technology, confirmed that the spectrum was ready to be released, but stopped short of confirming which band would be made available for 4G spectrum, or indeed how operators would be able to obtain spectrum. Based on the previous tenders for 2G and 3G spectrum, industry observers expect the government to adopt the same method for issuing 4G spectrum, which is likely to be in the 1.8GHz band.

However, if the tender is based on the readiness of the country’s 3 mobile operators then it may yet be a way off; all of the service providers are still rolling out networks in an attempt to cover the entire country, amid an environment of falling voice and data tariffs. In addition, both Telenor and Ooredoo have stated that they will not invest further in 4G until LTE-enabled devices have gained an established foothold in the market – this in turn will require a fall in smartphone prices.

Ooredoo Myanmar has opted to deploy a 3G-only network, while rivals Telenor Myanmar and state operator MPT (Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications) are providing both 2G and 3G services. Both foreign firms began operations around a year ago, and within this time mobile penetration has more than doubled to 31.6%.

The substantial investment required to establish operations in Myanmar coupled with the major growth opportunities in the 2G and 3G markets is likely to deter Ooredoo and Telenor from investing further in 4G in the near future. Ooredoo has already pledged $15 billion of investment across the next 5 years, with the goal of extending coverage to 97% of the population. MPT, which is backed by KDDI, is expected to invest a more modest $2 billion across the next 10 years.

With 4G on the back burner, Myanmar’s operators are more likely to be concerned by the impending arrival of a fourth mobile player. Composed of a consortium of 11 local firms, the player – led by state firm Yatanarpon Teleport (YTP) – is currently seeking overseas investment to take a 49% stake in the venture, with the consortium taking the majority holding.

Although YTP’s goal of entering the market via a consortium has long been common knowledge, it may face competition for the fourth licence - Vietnam’s Viettel has previously expressed an interest in the market.

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