A taste of Burma

Last week, November 12 – 14, TeliaSonera was part of a group of business delegates, headed up by the Swedish prime minister and trade minister Ewa Björling, who visited Burma. One of the main purposes of the five day fact finding trip was to strengthen ties with Burma and to increase trade and investments between Sweden and Burma.

It is impossible to ignore the huge political transformation which has been sweeping though Burma in recent times. Step by step foreign states are easing long held bans on overseas investment into the country and Burma is starting to liberalise its state controlled economy. A new, investor friendly, foreign investment law has been approved in November and currently, the Burma government is reviewing its telecommunications act. Once established it would pave the way for potential auctioning and tendering of mobile licenses. Currently, there is no telecom regulation and no license process as of yet.

A country rich in natural resources

Burma is rich in natural resources such as arable land, forestry, minerals, natural gas. Most recently the country has emerged as a natural gas exporter. With its stunning coast line Burma will quickly become a prime tourist location as well. Due to its history, the digital revolution has pretty much gone unnoticed in Burma. Only one million, of its approx. 60 million inhabitants enjoy the benefits a mobile phone brings and 400.000 have internet access. Currently, the country has a poor fixed network and no roaming agreements. To be able to access the mobile network you need to purchase a 250 dollar SIM card. And even then the coverage is not good.

Little to none mobile coverage

Kjell Lindström, head of Public affairs TeliaSonera, as one of the twenty business delegates visiting the country points out:

“One of the first things that surprised me in Burma was that hardly any people were walking around with phones, and for that matter I did not even see a smartphone. It took a bit to get used to that. I guess our party was fortunate as on arrival we did buy a SIM card and a prepaid subscription for our phones, but still the coverage was poor. I guess you know the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, being in Burma, felt a bit like entering the castle when she awakes after such a long time a sleep”.

“During our visit the business delegation went to the capital Nay Pyi Taw where we had the possibility to meet with top ministers from six different Ministries. Of course the meeting with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology was very valuable and interesting to us. It gave us an insight in the way they work in order to get the telecom act in place, but more important contacts that might be useful in the future”.

“Nay Pyi Taw is a city built a few decades ago. The number of citizens is very limited and basically the city only consists of government buildings, big avenues and impressive roundabouts but very few cars. In Yangoon the environment is completely different. No one really knows how many people live there but probably seven million. The port of Yangoon is a very important hub for all kinds of trade and on the streets you can buy everything from food to clothing, books, well everything. Buildings and infrastructure are often in very bad conditions but you also note that there are many reconstruction projects going on. A lot will happen during the next coming years. Yangoon is a safe place. You do not have to feel unsecure walking on the streets. People are open minded and have a very positive attitude. This will of course also be important now when tourists start travelling to the country. I never had the chance to travel to the sea but I imagine the beaches are among the most beautiful in the world”.

What telecommunications can bring

According to many reports Burma could be on the verge of the next wave of growth. The growth though will be dependent on investments in the infrastructure such as health, education, communications and transport. The role of telecoms operator is a key enabler in achieving this. The most recent Deloitte and GSMA research, issued Nov 20, shows that mobile communications offers unprecedented economic growth globally. TeliaSonera will continue to keep a close eye on developments in Burma, but before making any decisions on entering the market a thorough human rights impact assessment and due diligence process would have to be completed.

Author: Kristina Hunter Nilsson

See a short video film by Kjell Lindström during the visit 


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