In our teleuse surveys, we found that missed calls beat out texts in some countries (e.g., Bangladesh v Philippines). One explanation is that there are more illiterate people in the countries where missed calls predominate. Qualitative research found that a lot of texting did not involve literate work, mostly it was forwarding messages sent by others.
Reading a story about how profitable DTAC in Thailand found the up to 5 million Myanmarese living in Thailand to be, I was reminded of what LIRNEasia-MIDO had submitted in response to the draft International Gateway regulations in January 2016. Imposing non-cost reflective termination rates for international incoming calls is counterproductive especially in the market conditions found in Myanmar where over 50 percent of the subscribers of major mobile network operators are daily data users. Most international communication will shift to “over-the-top” (so called OTT) services, accelerating the decline of the international communication services offered by fixed and mobile network operators. Toward the end of the story they do get to our point: DTAC’s main competition is arguably not other telecom operators but rather new technologies, which are making old-fashioned IDD calls an unnecessary expense. “Nowadays Burmese people in Thailand, whether they are migrant workers, activists or academics, are using less costly methods such as Facebook Messenger, Viber or LINE to communicate with friends and relatives in Burma,” said U Soe Aung, a long time Thailand resident and spokesman for the Forum for Democracy in Burma.
I wish standard metrics would be used when CEOs talk about data use so that we can be sure that Telenor’s 52 percent is comparable to Ooredoo’s 86 percent. But anyway, it’s good to see Ooredoo’s emphasis on data is paying off: “We are thrilled that 86 per cent of our customers currently use our data services. We are seeing explosive growth in data traffic on the network, which has increased 5 times in the last year, driven by the affordability of Ooredoo Internet tariffs. We also see that data usage per subscriber, which reached an average of 580 megabytes per month in Q4, at par with what customers in Europe are consuming on their mobile phones,” he said. According to Meza, Ooredoo products and services are now available in over 100,000 retail outlets, in addition to more than 100 brand stores countrywide.
We’ve been talking about the high level of data use in Myanmar. We were surprised. The Telenor Myanmar CEO has been surprised too. “The thing that surprised us most [was] the data – 52pc monthly data users is very high [in a] country with this type of GDP, so it’s promising in terms of what you can do on that platform,” he said. “When we add financial services, [that] will allow you over time to participate in the global internet … We have the opportunity to leapfrog.
We used to say that the only certainty about demand forecasts for telephony in developing economies was that they were wrong. It appears the same may apply to business strategies. Telenor had more demand for data than they envisaged. Ooredoo is planning to mass market data? Ooredoo’s focus on costlier data services, however, has meant that it fell behind its rivals in signing up subscribers: MPT boasts 18 million customers, while Telenor has 12 million.
Sliding revenues from conventional wholesale services mean carriers are being challenged to find new drivers for growth. It has been the hot topic in this year’s Pacific Telecommunication Council’s Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. I presented the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway as new avenue to revenue. Here is my presentation.
LIRNEasia has had a deep commitment to decentralized innovation. Specifically in relation to Pakistan, we advocated more reasonable revenue splits for app developers and actions to reduce the transaction costs for them as far back as in May 2010. We are happy to see actions on those lines reported from Pakistan. Irfan Wahab Khan, Deputy CEO of Telenor Pakistan, while speaking with ProPakistani, confirmed the plans and said that Telenor Pakistan is determined to play a role in nurturing and strengthening startups ecosystem in Pakistan. “In addition to giving these startups an access to our assets, such as distribution channels, retail network, Telenor Pakistan has bundled a tool-kit with payment, location and other similar APIs, that will be made available to these selected startups”, explained Irfan Wahab Khan.
We saw that Myanmarese were bypassing feature phones and directly going to smartphones more than a year ago. The numbers we saw from the demand side survey conducted in Feb-Mar 2015 were close to 65 percent. This report says 70 percent. Should be right. The telco’s user base now exceeds 10 million people across 12 of 14 regions and states, Telenor Myanmar CEO Petter Furberg said in an August 19 statement.
A few months back Telenor Group asked whether we would be interested in working up a document that would focus thinking on Digital Bangladesh and identify priority areas for cooperative action by different agencies of government and the private sector, including in particular Telenor’s Bangladesh affiliate Grameenphone. We did not have to think much because this was an opportunity to crystallize seven years of ongoing discussions and help advance the process of accelerated implementation. The government should relax the rules to attract more foreign firms to invest in Bangladesh, said a report developed by Grameenphone and its major shareholder Telenor Group with the support of LIRNEasia. The government should also form a well-planned spectrum roadmap and introduce tech neutrality to boost the telecom, IT and IT-enabled services, the report suggested. The report, Realising Digital Bangladesh, also advised the government to liberalise international gateways to allow one-stop shopping services and ensure the quality of services.
Telenor Myanmar has reported how many lawful intercept requests ity received in the first six months of operation: On the institutional side, the government still lacks the skills, process and willingness to make decisions, Furberg said, which can lead to delays. “Corruption is still very high on our agenda,” he said, admitting that Telenor Myanmar has received one claim of corruption in its supply chain that it investigated but was unable to prove. Telenor also has to tread carefully when law enforcement make requests for historical usage data about its customers to ensure it strikes the right balance between crime prevention and privacy. “We can’t hand out information without a court order,” Furberg said, but at the moment it is not always clear which courts in Myanmar handle these cases. So far, Telenor has received 15 requests for historical usage data and has complied with three, he said, which were linked with drug offences and missing persons.
The first surprise comes from Telenor which has more customers than Ooredoo despite a late start and less money to spend. The second surprise also comes from Telenor, which has apparently made an unexpected profit. There are now at least 18.1 million SIM cards in active use, according to the operators, not including cards that have been sold but are not used regularly. MPT told Reuters last week it had 8.
Some questions that came to mind as I read the report linked below. Myanmar has 325 townships, the third level of administrative units. So, 199 out of 325 is pretty good. But is it that Telenor is in a central location in 199 townships or they cover the entirety of 199 townships? How does Ooredoo calculate its population coverage?
There is a certain arrogance in coverage of developing countries by Western reporters. They assumed that Ooredoo, managed by Westerners, and Telenor in particular would simply walk over MPT. That was the case in places like Bangladesh where the government did not act to reform the incumbent. But MPT is managed by KDD. They also did not take into account the advantage of having land.
At the end of its First Quarter of operations, Telenor Myanmar reported 3.4 million subscribers. That’s a hefty number, given Ooredoo had a head start and MPT also got energized during that time. But the real story is that 40 percent of that number (1.36 million) were daily active data users.
As we always say, think of the Internet as a chain. A chain is as strong as the weakest link. This imperfectly researched article by a Yangon based journalist (has missed the AAE-1 Cable completely) claims that backhaul problems may be responsible for the poor Internet performance of Ooredoo. For Telenor and Ooredoo to be able to provide the capacity and redundancy needed for stable service, many across the industry point out that the companies need to be as involved with putting up towers and tower equipment as they are with building more long-haul domestic and international fiber links. Although Ooredoo has taken a starring role with regards to eye-catching marketing and corporate service responsibility initiatives, the company has also declined to even acknowledge any plans to beef up infrastructure.
The telecom operators in Myanmar are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The demand for SIMs is so high that call and data quality is compromised. If they restrict supply, a black market develops. If they don’t, their image gets sullied. I was pleased to read that Telenor had postponed its rollout in Yangon until it did some final tweaks on the network.