Online development gathers pace in Burma
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Online development gathers pace in Burma

Burma’s emerging tech and telecoms sectors saw two major boons this week. Ooredoo announced it will launch low-cost products and services on August 15, and Code for Change Myanmar announced it will host the country’s second-ever hackathon in early September.

Ooredoo, one of two international telecoms operating in Burma, is offering free access to voice and Internet services to customers in Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw, and Yangon as a promotion leading up to the August 15 launch. Those with compatible devices can purchase SIM cards for 1,500 kyat (about US$1.50) and take advantage of promised “crystal clear voice calls and fast internet services,” according to a press release. Until midnight August 14, customers can use 900 free minutes to call and 900 free texts to any Ooredoo phone. If they are calling other networks in Burma, they will get 90 free minutes and 90 free texts. As an added bonus, Ooredoo users can access Facebook for free and use up to 20 MB of free Internet per day during the promotional period. Once the commercial launch happens, people will be able to purchase top-up cards when they buy their SIM cards.

The commercial launch will expand calling and Internet services from Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw, and Yangon to 68 other cities throughout the country, including Meiktila and Dagon.

Ooredoo also announced that it is bringing a UMTS900 network, “the most advanced 3G technology in the world,” to Burma. This is big news in a country where connections are currently painfully slow, even in major cities such as Yangon. Of course, consumers will need to use devices compatible with this type of network, though Ooredoo noted that companies including HTC, Huawei, LG, Nokia, Apple, Sony and Samsung all make devices capable of accessing it.

“We are so excited to have met our commitment to bring mobile telecommunications to the people of Myanmar, edging us ever closer to being able to serve the nation’s huge demand for mobile technology,” Ooredoo Myanmar CEO Ross Cormack said in a statement.

Ooredoo has also indicated that its involvement in Burma will go beyond commercial enterprises, and that it will invest in “initiatives that serve the Myanmar people’s high demand for education, applications that help improve maternal healthcare, solutions that help the country’s unbanked and technology that improves the productivity of the nation’s large agriculture sector.” The company has also provided support to entrepreneurs in the country’s tech scene.

Ooredoo is one of the sponsors of Code for Change’s upcoming “Business Solutions” hackathon. Code for Change Myanmar and Ooredoo are also working with USAID, Internews, Ideabox, Singtech Myanmar, Red Bull, and Nescafe on the event, which will be held September 5-7. The Business Solutions hackathon will build on the momentum from the country’s first-ever hackathon, which was held in March. At that event, 76 developers came together to address problems presented by various Burmese NGOs. Developers tackled issues of election transparency, health care issues for sex workers, and the needs of rural farmers.

Now Code for Change Myanmar is inviting the tech community to come together again to create innovative business solutions and opportunities that can help spur economic growth in the country.

The level of participation and enthusiasm at that hackathon (which this writer attended) demonstrated the clear desire among the tech community to create solutions to social problems. A major constraint at the moment is the slow and unreliable Internet connectivity, which is why the promised services from Ooredoo and Norwegian telecom Telenor, also operating in Burma, are so vital to the country’s future.

“[Burma’s] connectivity revolution creates big opportunities for businesses,” said David Madden, Code for Change Myanmar founder, in a statement. “The purpose of this event is to get [Burma’s] best developers together to build technology products that are going to help Myanmar businesses be more successful.”

“Small and medium enterprises are crucial for the growth and development that will help move this country forward and enable it to integrate into the ASEAN economy,” Virginia Murray, Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy, said in a statement released by Code for Change. “We hope that this event
will show the potential for businesses to use technology to accelerate this growth.”