Appears Myanmar will have two mobile money services in operation by end 2017, raising interconnection issues for which there still is no regulatory mechanism in place. The new mobile money services, M-Pitesan, will enable the telco’s customers to send money instantly within the country. Customers will also be able to buy airtime for themselves or others, said Jacques Voogt, Chief M-Commerce officer for Ooredoo Myanmar. Since the entry of foreign telecom players in 2014, Myanmar has seen its mobile penetration cross 90 per cent. With about 77 per cent of the population lacking access to banking, mobile money services offer an opportunity to drive financial inclusion in the country.
Six years ago, we were discussing how to accelerate app development in the context of a proposal we submitted to infoDev. Instead of giving the grant to us, they chose to give it to some Pakistani government outfit where the entire thing was still-born. But the relevance to the question of what comes after the smartphone is a conversation I had with Sanjiva Weerawarana, one of Sri Lanka’s ICT leaders. It is easy now to talk about how popular smartphones would be. But back in 2011 it took some foresight to claim as Sanjiva did that smartphones would dominate the marketplace.
In the course of preparing for a talk, I was entering household expenditure data on communication-related activities into a spreadsheet that contained data from the 2009-10 Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES). In the three years since 2009-10 many things have happened to expenditure patterns, but one thing jumped out. In 2009-10 a household reported an average expenditure of LKR 382.72 outside the home per month. In 2012-13, this had declined to LKR 17.
This post is part of series of responses to observations made during a discuss on the “Aluth Parlimenthuwa” show on TV Derana. Read Part I here. In Part 2, I address policymaker misconceptions about the contributions of ICT to economic growth. In the talk show, at around the 29th minute, the policymaker refers to a study that claimed that 10 percent growth in broadband penetration would result in some x percent economic growth. This is most likely the widely cited 2009 econometric study by Christine Qiang and Carlo Rossotto which claimed 0.
The Department of Census and Statistics has published the preliminary results of the 2016 Computer Literacy Survey. The survey has its beginnings in the e Sri Lanka initiative which supported the initial iterations starting from 2004. This is the sixth in the series. One expects indicators such as literacy and device ownership to increase every year. But not in 2016.
Reliance shook up India’s markets once, with what appeared to be an oxymoronic strategy of limited mobility. It worked. The market was transformed and the effects reverberated across the developing world. In a different guise Reliance is back. The market is being transformed.
India was reported to have had 638,596 villages, of which 593,731 are inhabited according to the last census. Over 9 percent of the inhabited villages, 55,000, are said to lack mobile coverage. Sinha said that, according to the 2011 Census, there are 55,000 villages that don’t have mobile connectivity. The government, he added, had drawn up a plan to ensure the villages are brought on the mobile telephony network, especially in hilly areas and Left-wing extremism-affected regions. Congress member Renuka Chowdhury pointed out that mobile towers had been destroyed in Maoist violence.
We’ve written a lot about taxes on this site. We’ve even showcased studies that showed optimal revenues for government were not obtained by raising taxes. But the current Finance Minister in Sri Lanka does not appear to hear any of this. But we keep hoping. So here is another nuanced contribution from Gabe Solomons.
There was a time when regulation had three priorities: interconnection, interconnection and interconnection. Was it Maeve Sullivan who came up with that line? Anyway, we fought those battles, and then we got beyond that. So anyway, looks like it’s coming back in the form of interconnection of mobile financial services. Mr Collymore agreed that the industry needs greater cross-platform interoperability even as he argued that the process should be driven by market forces rather than regulatory intervention.
One of the first things Ashok Jhunjhunwala said when we started working together was that in India scale was everything. He should know, having spun off a number of companies and suffered some failures as well. I find it difficult to get excited about stories like this, because these initiatives addressing 16,000 women in the country of 1.2 billion people are unlikely to scale. Of course, one hopes they will succeed.
Learning from the experience of others, the licensing regime in Myanmar made it possible for companies that specialized in the operation of towers to function (unlike, say, in Sri Lanka). When the main business of a company is the leasing of space for antenna, it has incentives to use the towers most efficiently and to allow as many mobile network operators to use the space as possible. It is not that concerns over aesthetics and health are absent, but it would be fair to say that Myanmar could not have made the rapid progress it has achieved without this element of intelligent policy design. Fortunately for Myanmar’s telecom infrastructure companies, the market for rooftop real estate is booming. A fourth telco is due to launch this year, and Telenor and Ooredoo are in the midst of a major urban rollout.
Multiple SIM ownership has been a topic we have given much thought to over the years. Unlike the ITU, we never thought it was a good thing in and of itself. We tried to understand why people bothered to juggle multiple SIMs. We found it had many causes, not just high interconnection charges as suggested by Telegeography below. Gaps in coverage and discounts for calling friends and family were among the factors identified.
The fourth operator in the now mature Myanmar telecom market is Mytel. Sometime back I wrote about its secret sauce. In addition to confirming the use of military facilities, the company says that it will gain access to AAE-1 to ensure a good Internet experience for its customers. The Star High – MEC connection gives MyTel access to 1,000 towers and over 13,000 kilometres of fibre, plus other MECTel telecoms assets, thus transforming the viability of the business case for the new market entrant. According to an MPT spokesperson “As a general principle, the idea is to leverage MECTel’s assets, at least those ones that can be commercially used, as well as the existing subscriber base”.
Nandan Nilekani of Infosys and Aadhaar fame has been brought in to help the government of India accelerate the transition to e financial services in the aftermath of demonetization. 350 million with no phones and 350 million with feature phones is just the first problem. What happens when there is no signal, like in Chennai after the recent storm? The committee has a mega challenge ahead. The committee is expected to meet again this week to look at how to approach those with limited access to technology.
Replacing a phone can be postponed. Getting a new connection? That too can be postponed. It appears these things are being done. I guess we can expect a surge in purchases once the new notes are available.
When I was looking for countries with smartphone penetration higher than Myanmar (78%), and of course there was Singapore. So with more than 80% smartphone penetration and the 2G networks about to be shut down and spectrum reallocated, it’s no wonder sales of 2G-only phones are being discontinued. Wonder who will be next? Singapore’s mobile operators will shut down their 2G networks from April 1 to allow IMDA to re-allocate spectrum for more advanced mobile services. IMDA is working with operators to facilitate the migration of remaining 2G users to 3G or 4G networks, allowing subscribers to upgrade their devices while maintaining their plans and monthly subscription costs.