How Myanmar’s policies accelerated digital development

The introduction and widespread use of smartphones, together with broadband connectivity, has created unprecedented opportunities for people worldwide to use the Internet and other online services.

This has improved billions of lives and helped accelerate progress on each of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

However, we often forget that it is not the technology alone that has made this progress possible.

“It is not only technologies but the right policies that need to be in place for real development to happen.”

Enabling policies and regulations have an equally important role to play.

There are many examples to drive this point home. One of these is Myanmar.

The story of Myanmar

In 2011, when 4G had already been deployed by several countries, in Myanmar, there was limited availability of GSM-based voice services only. The cost of a SIM card was several hundred US dollars and the number of mobile subscribers was around 1.24 million in a country with a population of around 54 Million.

Indeed, it was considered one of the world’s last relatively untapped mobile telephony markets.

Realizing the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve people’s lives and to create opportunities for business and the society at large, the government of Myanmar decided to change its policies by opening up the market for private sector investment.

Initially, two new technology neutral licenses and associated radio-frequency spectrum suitable for GSM as well as 3G services were given out to Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo after they won the bidding process.

This was innovative in the sense that the operators got a clear roadmap towards introducing mobile broadband quickly if they wanted to. In fact, Ooredoo did not launch GSM and directly went ahead with the launch of 3G.

Furthermore, by using the so-called “beauty contest” method to allocate spectrum – whereby certain parameters and coverage obligations were outlined – Myanmar clearly sent the message that it was not entirely looking for upfront money but that it had the long-term goal of connecting its citizens.

Further deregulation and competition

Myanmar followed this up with further deregulation and competition in the telecommunication sector.

An important aspect that helped Myanmar introduce further competition was to keep some spectrum in the lower frequency bands for future allocation to new operators.

Within a few years, this helped to allow Mytel – an operator backed by the Myanmar government and Vietnam’s largest telecommunication company, Viettel – to enter the market taking the total to four, including the incumbent operator, stated-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT).

The country also worked on other aspects, such as improved international connectivity, as well as plans for deploying fiber-optic cable networks and spectrum roadmaps – all of which that gave the investor the confidence about the long-term availability of spectrum and associated backhaul.

Cost of a SIM card drops to less than $1

All of this resulted eventually not only in a massive drop of the price of SIM cards but also a drop in the price of usage. The cost of the SIM dropped to less than a dollar and subscribers also continuously witnessed drops in the cost of call and data prices in Myanmar.

“With the right kind of policies, the wheel for development can spin much faster.”

This, along with the increased network coverage, played a major role in the phenomenal increase in the number of subscribers.

By the year 2018, the number of cellular mobile subscribers reached 61.14 million, which was more than the country’s population.

From the following figure, we can see the drastic increase due to the right policy decisions, measures and actions.

The consumers in Myanmar now have access to 4G services with speeds that are better than other countries in the region, and the 5G roadmap is being developed.

The country where just a few years ago even making an international call or a local one for that matter was an issue is well on the way toward digital transformation.

This is just one case that shows that it is not only technologies, but the right policies that need to be in place for real development to happen.

There are other case studies around the world that prove that, with the right kind of policies, the wheel for development can spin much faster.

 

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