Qatari telecom Ooredoo announced recently that it will make mobile phone and Internet available to 30 percent of Burma’s population by the end of September, according to The Irrawaddy. That’s a tall order in a country that currently has about a 10 percent mobile penetration rate, and where most of the population cannot afford phones or an Internet connection in their homes. But Ooredoo and fellow telecom Telenor knew what they were getting themselves into when they were awarded prized licenses to operate in the developing country, and are now poised to benefit from a nation that only recently opened up to foreign investment after decades of oppression under a military junta.
Ooredoo’s initial SIM card offering will be implemented in the areas around Yangon, Naypyidaw, and Mandalay between July and September, which will constitute the initial 30 percent of people. However, the plan is to reach 60 percent by the end of 2014 and 97 percent of the population within the next five years. Ooredoo has been quite active since entering the country, and regularly sponsors events and initiatives to support the budding tech and entrepreneurship scene. In March, Ooredoo helped fund and hosted the country’s first-ever hackathon, in which the tech community came together with Burmese NGOs to tackle some of the country’s major social issues.
Myanmar Today News quoted Ooredoo CEO Ross Cormack as saying 100 telecom towers have already been built, and more will be constructed throughout the rest of the year. Cormack also reportedly said the company will import 3G handsets, since not all mobile phones currently on the market in Burma are compatible with the SIM cards the company will offer.
The Irrawaddy noted that Telenor has stated its plan to roll out SIM cards in September. Both companies have said they would sell SIM cards for $1.50 USD, according to Eleven Myanmar. SIM cards once went for $3,000, making them completely out of reach for the vast majority of people in Burma. The entrance of Ooredoo and Telenor signals a new era in the country, and there is much anticipation about the opportunity Burma now has to come online.