According to various regional press reports, the distribution of heavily-discounted SIM cards in Myanmar has commenced as planned, although question marks have been raised over the government’s lottery-style allocation process. From today, state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT) will sell 350,000 SIM cards through a public lottery, with plans to offer additional batches on a monthly basis. Myanmar is home to a population of 62.4 million, but accounted for just 2.9 million mobile users at 31 December 2012, equivalent to a penetration rate of 4.6%. Far from welcoming the move to slash the price of SIM cards from MMK200,000 (USD223) to MMK1,500 (USD1.7), critics of the plan have suggested that the strictly limited allocation of 100 SIM cards per administrative ward is likely to fuel black market trade. Complicating matters, the SIM cards being sold off are only said to be compatible with MECTel top-up cards issued by the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and distributed through their authorised outlets in big cities.
According to online portal Eleven Myanmar, local economists have observed that the SIM card lottery echoes product distribution used as part of General Ne Win’s ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ ruling strategy between 1962 and 1988, which took its cues from Soviet ideals. Further, the website notes that locals from 40th Ward of the Dagon Myo Thit (North) township have lodged a formal complaint to the local administrators after the Ward Administrator handed SIM cards to his relatives and acquaintances, rather than conducting a lottery-style draw.
In a notable move to drive cellular uptake within Myanmar, on 27 June the government is due to announce the winners of two new 15-year telecoms licences; companies on the short-list include: Bharti Airtel, Axiata, Digicel, Millicom International Cellular (MIC), Qatar Telecom (Qtel/Ooredoo), Telenor and Viettel Group. In addition, the following consortia are all in the running for a concession: France Telecom-Orange and Marubeni, Vodafone and China Mobile, MTN Consortium (consisting of MTN Dubai, M1 Telecom and Amara Communications), KDDI, Sumitomo, Myanmar Information and Communication Technology Development Corporation (MICTDC) and A1 Construction, and Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), KBZ and Myanmar Telephone Company (M-Tel).