Open for business: The rise of the Internet in Burma
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Open for business: The rise of the Internet in Burma

Much of the news and debate surrounding Burma these days is on peace and conflict in the nation, and analysis of politics, corruption and civil war. However, issues such as technology and the Internet in Burma seem to fly under the news radar.

The Internet market in Burma is not a vibrant one, but technologists and entrepreneurs are becoming more hopeful that it is just a matter of time before the people of Burma can buy and sell online. Investors are coming to Burma in droves, but so far there is now method of online payment.

There is no online banking system in Burma, although ATMs have been available since last year. PayPal has yet to make its services available in Burma.

However, many tech products are being launched. A potential substitute for PayPal known as MyanPay was launched as a beta version in 2012. Two multiplayer online games – a Burmese traditional chess game and a Burmese style card game – were launched in 2012 and their monetization plans are not clear yet. The first mobile game in the Burmese language, with a Burmese Robin Hood-style character – was also a hit among local players. Many other mobile apps such as Burmese astrology and a Burmese language dictionary are becoming available. The first crowd-sourced news site is gaining a strong following, while small Facebook shops where people can order products via Facebook pages and purchase on delivery have become very trendy as well.

(READ MORE: In Burma, Facebook becomes a hotbed of extremism)

While indie applications may not seem huge, investors are eyeing on the newfound market. Rocket Internet, a giant Internet business company, has bought several local domains (.com.mm) and runs local websites like work.com.mm (job board), motors.com.mm (automobile dealers), house.com.mm (real estate) and ads.com.mm (classifieds). Recently, shop.com.mm is redirected to Lazada, a ventured e-commerce site popular in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, HTC has entered the Burma market with six smartphones along with a Burmese language website. Google unblocked almost all of its services to Burma after its chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit to the Southeast Asia nation with least developed Infrastructure. Facebook is adding Burmese language to their localization. Visa is exploring for mobile payment. This marks the long awaited movement of Internet giant to the reforming country.

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Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt gestures during an interactive session with group of students at a technical university in Yangon during his visit to Burma in March. Pic: AP.

Yesterday’s significant cuts to SIM card prices is also a welcome development that is likely to increase Internet penetration rate and local connectivity. The noticeable challenge left is providing the infrastructure to let small start-ups grow and contribute to the country’s development.

Since Internet connection speeds are unstable and extremely slow it is difficult for developers to build quality sites and internet software. It is also difficult for local programmers to communicate and collaborate with those in foreign countries. Although they might be able to build quality products for international users, there is, at least for the time being, no chance to make profit from it as there is no proper and legal online payment system.

For now, we can only watch and wait for first online payment system in Burma which could boost its Internet business growth significantly.