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Myanmar: Hunger for ICT

It has always been the case that the demand for mobile telephony has been greater than envisaged in airconditioned rooms. But in Myanmar, the guys in the AC rooms seem to be thinking it’s going to be massive.

Only a tiny number of people in Myanmar have mobile phones. Even fewer have access to the Internet. But that hasn’t stopped word of BarCamp from quickly spreading. BarCamps–informal gatherings of grassroots geeks who come together to listen to one another give talks on technology–are usually publicized via online social networks. Since the first one in Silicon Valley less than a decade ago these Information Age talkfests have been held in 350 cities. In January of last year Yangon drew the biggest crowd for any BarCamp worldwide, some 6,500 people. More than 5,000 attended this year’s gathering.

Now two overseas companies will soon tap into that hunger for Internet services, mobile phones and the other technology advances that most of the world has enjoyed for years. Today, as Myanmar pries open its economy, mobile phone use is up to 10% of the population of more than 60 million, while fewer than 7% now have Internet access. But these rates are set to skyrocket at fiber-optic speed as Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo start rolling out modern equipment over the next three months. Ooredoo plans to invest $1 billion this year and bring service to 70% of the population by the end of next year–within five years 97%. Telenor, a veteran of tough Asian markets, also is pledging $1 billion to start. “We’ve never entered a market before where demand is so visible,” says Sigve Brekke, Telenor’s longtime head of Asian operations.

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