1800MHz band standardised for FD-LTE in Myanmar; trial expected in 2013

21 Mar 2013

According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) has standardised a 20MHz block in the 1800MHz spectrum band for Frequency Division-Long Term Evolution (FD-LTE) use, and intends to trial the technology in 2013. It is unclear precisely when the information was divulged, but an LTE pilot project in Myanmar was one of the key topics of discussion at December 2012’s ‘Into Myanmar’ ICT summit, an event the GSA attended. Interestingly, perhaps with one eye on the much-coveted wireless licences set to be auctioned off in Myanmar later this year, Jamaica-based mobile group Digicel was one of the event’s main sponsors, and David Dillon, the general counsel of its Asia Pacific division (which currently comprises units in Vanuatu, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji and Nauru) delivered a talk on the development of a new regulatory framework for Myanmar. It has long been rumoured that Digicel is keen to secure a partnership agreement with incumbent operator MPT, rather than launching a green-field operation.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, plans are underway for state-owned service provider MPT to be dismantled, with its telecoms operations hived off into a new entity, Myanmar Telecom, which will operate without funding from the government. The country’s only other telco, Yatanarpon Teleport, will become Yatanarpon Telecom, while unified licences will be offered to two new operators, with international telecoms operators invited to lodge an Expression of Interest (EoI) since late-2012. Applicants should have at least four million subscribers in one or more countries and generate annual gross revenues of at least USD400 million, or hold a minimum 50.1% stake in an operator that meets those requirements. Operators are also encouraged to partner with a Myanmar-based company, although this is not a formal requirement.

To date 90 firms have expressed an interest in securing a new licence in the comparatively untapped market, including: Digicel, MTN Group of South Africa, India’s Bharti Airtel, Singapore’s SingTel, Malaysia’s Axiata, Singapore-based telecoms investor ST Telemedia (with interests including StarHub and Malaysia’s U Mobile), Thai operator AIS (via parent Shin Corp/InTouch), Norway’s Telenor (parent of Thailand’s DTAC), Thai firms Advanced Info Service (AIS) and True Corp, PT Telkomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom) and NTT DoCoMo and KDDI of Japan.

Late last year, a new foreign investment law was passed by the country’s parliament; it includes the possibility of an eight year tax exemption if new projects are deemed profitable for the country. In addition, foreign investors can lease land from the government – or from authorised private owners – for up to 50 years, depending on the type and size of the investment, and the deal can be extended twice, for ten years each time. Foreigners can still own 100% of businesses without the need for a local partner, as in the previous law dating from 1988, but there could be restrictions in some areas.