Business Irish

Monday 20 November 2017

Digicel poised to enter Myanmar mobile market in phone mast deal

A trishaw rider carries a passenger and chickens from a bazaar in Yangon, Myanmar
A trishaw rider carries a passenger and chickens from a bazaar in Yangon, Myanmar
Thomas Molloy

Thomas Molloy

DIGICEL said it will join a consortium to supply and build mobile phone masts in Myanmar

The news is a boost to Digicel which lost out earlier this year in a competition to win a mobile phone licence in the country which used to be known as Burma. While Digicel already operates in 31 markets, Myanmar's 56 million people make the country a massive market.

Building telecommunications networks is expected to bring a leap forward in digital technology that could speed up economic development in Asia's poorest country after Afghanistan.

Digicel, which is controlled by businessman Denis O'Brien, will join forces with YSH Finance and Ooredoo Myanmar to build the masts through a consortium called Digicel Asian Holdings.

"We are delighted to work with Ooredoo to help develop a high-quality telecommunications network across the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, contribute to the growth of the Myanmar economy and benefit Myanmar citizens across all of the country's states, regions and union territories," Mr O'Brien, who is the largest shareholder in INM, said in a statement yesterday.

Qatar's Ooredoo beat a Digicel-led consortium which included financier George Soros in June to provide telecommunications services in Myanmar. The other company to win a licence was Norway's Telenor. Ooredoo plans to spend $15bn (€11bn) over the 15-year licence period, including operational and capital expenditure, licence fees and taxes.

"It's not a mobile-phone business we are building, it's a broadband network," Ooredoo boss Jeremy Sell told Reuters over the summer. Myanmar is one of the biggest untapped mobile phone markets in the world. With dense jungle in many areas and almost no mobile communications infrastructure, the country is a challenging market for newcomers.

The country is only slowly returning to democracy after suffering for years under a junta. A quasi-civilian government came to power in 2011 after 49 years of military rule.

Digicel is now united with YSH Finance which is a unit of Singapore-listed financial services and property group SPA Myanmar Group. That consortium now plans to join forces with Ooredoo. They will compete with Telenor, which has 150 million customers worldwide and operates in neighbouring Thailand and Bangladesh. It plans to launch its network next year and achieve nationwide coverage within five years.

Irish Independent

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