Jan 26, 2013

4 telecom firms eye Myanmar

Myanmar has attracted at least four expressions of interest for telecommunications licences as it looks to create a proper network after decades of military rule and neglect.

The prospective operators include Telenor of Norway, the parent of the Thai mobile operator DTAC, plus Axiata of Malaysia and two Singaporean companies: Singapore Telecommunications, Asean's biggest phone company, and ST Telemedia, a unit of Temasek Holdings.

"It is a logical and interesting market to consider investing in," Axiata said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News. "It represents a strategic market given its high growth potential."

Myanmar is offering two licences to expand telecom coverage to as much as 80% of the country by 2016, the government said on Jan 17 when inviting foreign companies to submit bids.

The country's 5.44 million mobile-phone subscribers as of last month amounted to a 9% penetration rate, compared with 70% in Cambodia, 87% in Laos and more than 100% in Thailand, the ministry said.

The country has a fixed- line penetration rate of about 1%, it said.

Than Zaw, a director at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, said on Friday that a statement about prospective bidders would be released, without giving a timeframe.

Deputy Minister Maung Maung Thein at the Ministry of Finance and Revenue, who is a member of the selection board, said he had not yet been informed about the process. Ye Htut, a spokesman for President Thein Sein, was not immediately available to comment.

"SingTel maintains an interest in investment opportunities in large, underpenetrated markets and will be financially disciplined in its evaluation of such opportunities," Singapore's biggest phone company said in an e-mailed statement, adding that it submitted its interest with Myanmar partners.

The licences will be issued by June and may last as long as 20 years with an option for renewal, the government said on Jan 15.

Myanmar's parliament may approve a draft telecommunications law, which will include the creation of an independent regulator by 2015, in the first half of this year, it said.

SingTel, which also owns Australia's second-biggest phone company, holds stakes in mobile-phone operators in countries including Thailand, the Philippines and India. Kuala Lumpur-based Axiata already has mobile-phone interests in countries including India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

ST Telemedia owns stakes in technology and phone companies including StarHub, Singapore's second-biggest telecommunications operator. It also holds shares of mobile-phone companies in Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as the largest cable-TV operator in the Philippines. compared with an average estimate of 25.4 billion kroner.

Oslo-based Telenor has wireless assets in Asia countries including Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh.

"We believe that we are well-positioned to contribute in developing a successful mobile industry in Myanmar," said Glenn Mandelid, a spokesman based in Thailand.

Source: Bangkok Post

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