Ooredoo launches mobile services in Burma; Telenor to follow next month

Ooredoo Myanmar launch

Ooredoo Myanmar held a special press event ahead of their commercial launch in Burma. From left to right: U Myint Zaw, National Sales Director at Ooredoo Myanmar; Ross Cormack, CEO of Ooredoo Myanmar; David Abel, Chief Mentor of Ooredoo Myanmar; U Myat Hein, Union Minister; Dr. Nasser Marafih, CEO of Ooredoo. Pic: Courtesy Ooredoo Myanmar

Foreign telecoms Ooredoo and Telenor will soon both be up and running in Burma. Ooredoo launched its commercial services in Burma on Aug. 15, making good on its promise to provide fast, reliable Internet and mobile services to the largely unconnected population. Telenor plans to roll out its offerings toward the end of September.

Ooredoo offered a number of starter and specialty packs to customers during the early launch days, the company announced in a statement. The company launched the new Samsung Galaxy V phone in an exclusive partnership, bundled with free call minutes and special prices on data and SMS. Those using Ooredoo services on their phone can top-up for 1,000 kyat (about US$1). Perhaps most importantly, the company has made SIM cards available to tens of thousands of people for 1,500 kyat (about US$1.50), and those come with a bonus 1,500 kyat in credit during the initial launch period. The Qatari telecom said it expects to bring access to “its life enriching services” to 25 million people by the end of 2014.

“The response to our kick-off promotion has been amazing. We are delighted that so many people joined us for the exciting inaugural stage of this incredible journey, enabling us to use their direct feedback to optimise the network on a daily basis,” said Ross Cormack, CEO of Ooredoo Myanmar. “These efforts continue as we improve and grow the network, particularly in Yangon, and work to bring you the very highest levels of service.”

“A little over a year ago we committed to breaking down all the barriers that limited the people of Myanmar’s access to high quality voice calls and a fast internet experience,” Dr. Nasser Marafih, Visiting Group CEO of Ooredoo, said in a statement. “One of the many reasons we are excited to be here in this wonderful country is that we strongly believe everybody has the right to experience the life-enriching benefits of mobile technology and the internet.”

The night before the commercial launch, Ooredoo held an inaugural event attended by U Myat Hein, the Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology, and U Than Htun Aung, the Director of the Posts & Telecommunications Department.

U Myat Hein commented on the significance of the Ooredoo launch, and was quoted in a company press release saying:

Today’s event marks a turning point in our country’s development, a truly historic moment. Over the past few years the Union Government and Ministry of Communications and Information Technology have worked hard to lay the foundations for the creation of a competitive telecommunications landscape that serves our people. With the introduction of Ooredoo’s services, our citizens will have an opportunity to choose the operator and services they use based on the quality of service, price and customer care. This will be a highly competitive market as our people are hungry for world class communications services at affordable prices.

Telenor to enter the market

Norwegian company Telenor will launch its services in late September, company leaders said during a presentation on sustainability efforts in Burma. Telenor Group CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas said the telecom, which operates in six Asian markets, has high hopes for its future in Burma. The company will offer both 2G and 3G network services, which it says is in line with goals to serve people in different economic demographics.

“To connect populations that are very poor, you need to offer 2G,” because the simplest, most inexpensive phones operate on 2G, said Petter Furberg, CEO of Telenor Myanmar.

“[Burma] will come up and [Telenor will] potentially run faster into the opportunities in this country than has happened in other countries,” Baksaas said. He attributed this to the fact Telenor has a more mature concept for rolling out services after 18 years operating in Asia, that it has improved technology, and that the company knows “more about how to go to market in a fairly poor environment.”

Furberg noted that infrastructure in Burma is still lacking, especially with regard to issuing permits for telecoms towers to be built to support the company’s Internet and mobile services. He said the regulations processes have slowed Telenor’s initiatives at times, but that the company will meet the eight-month deadline for a services rollout that is stipulated in the licensing agreement it has with the government.

He also emphasized the company’s commitment to avoiding land-grabbing, an issue that has caused problems for locals as companies have confiscated private land for development without adequately compensating local owners. Furberg said Telenor has taken great pains to address claims of land-grabbing and child labor by locals and domestic suppliers, and that the company has a zero-tolerance policy for corruption at all levels. Furberg also noted that Telenor has employed eight State Liason Officers (SLOs) to hold forums in ethnic states, where they discuss Telenor’s plans to bring services to these areas and bring local feedback to the company.