|Three years after the government opened up the country to the outside world, the telecommunications sector of Myanmar recently reached a tremendous milestone in its development. On March 8th, Telenor of Norway established Myanmar’s first independent international Internet connection.|
The last “green field” of telecom
Prior to a few weeks ago, all international Internet access to Myanmar had been handled through the state-run telecommunications firm, Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). Telenor was one of two international telecommunications companies to secure a license to operate in what is considered the last green field of the telecom world: an undeveloped country with little or no telecommunications infrastructure. Myanmar is the 24th most populous country on earth with 60 million people, but is also one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.
In June of last year, Norway’s Telenor and Ooderoo (formerly Qatar Telecom) were granted the first telecommunications licenses in a highly competitive process. It probably didn’t hurt that the government of Norway cancelled $534 million of debt from Myanmar only a few months prior. Telenor will pay $500 million for a 15-year license, requiring it to build a national mobile infrastructure expansive enough to provide coverage to 90% of the population within five years. It is an ambitious goal in a country with one of the world’s lowest mobile penetrations at 7% and Telenor has announced that it will invest $1 billion in Myanmar to meet this commitment. Telenor is not new to the region as it currently has subsidiaries in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia.
Currently, this network is only connected to the outside world through Tata services in Singapore. Tata reaches Myanmar via the sole submarine cable that comes ashore there, Sea-Me-We-3, which was built in 1999 and is ancient by today’s standards. Using Renesys Internet Intelligence (RII) pictured below, we can see that Telenor’s infrastructure in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is currently about 67ms away from Singapore, one of the major crossroads of the global Internet. Performance to the US and Europe was quite poor when these measurements were taken (over 300ms), a common situation for Myanmar.
Last month, my colleague Jim Cowie rated Myanmar at ‘severe risk’ of disconnection, along with Syria, Cuba and Uzbekistan, due to its lack of connectivity diversity at its international frontier. The addition of Telenor, and hopefully Ooderoo later this year, should ultimately represent a huge step forward in improving Myanmar’s Internet connectivity and resiliency.