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Number of internet users in Myanmar rockets

Internet use rapidly increases in Myanmar, with most people connecting through smartphones

Myanmar has more than 39 million internet users, up from 2 million in 2014, and Myanmar’s four telecoms operators have sold a record 43.72 million SIM cards by May 2016, reported The Myanmar Times.

The high volume of SIM cards sold means the country has achieved 89.38% mobile penetration, representing a dramatic increase from the 6.99% penetration recorded at the end of fiscal year 2011-12, according to U Soe Thein, director general at the Posts and Telecommunications Department of Myanmar.

The country’s four operators include Telenor and Ooredoo, which are foreign owned, state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications, and MECtel, owned by military-run Myanmar Economic Corporation.

However, the volume of SIM cards sold may not accurately represent true mobility penetration, as mobile users commonly own more than one card.

Thein was also reported saying that the number of people using the internet has also risen quickly, with many accessing the internet through mobile 3G broadband.

Myanmar has the fastest growth in mobile subscriptions in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Vivek Roy, research analyst Asia-Pacific at Ovum.

“Mobile subscriptions in Myanmar grew 127% year-on-year to reach 41.4 million at end of the first quarter of 2016,” said Roy.

“Aggressive network roll-out by mobile providers to new regions, lowering of voice and data tariffs along with decline in SIM price and availability of low-cost handsets have all contributed to increase in mobile subscriptions over the past two years.”

“Ovum forecasts mobile subscriptions to grow at 13% a year over the next five years to reach 76.7 million by the end of 2021.”

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In Myanmar, broadband penetration is primarily driven by mobile adoption, with fixed broadband being relatively unaffordable. For instance, Ooredoo Myanmar originally started as 3G-only player and launched 4G in May 2016. Another private player called Telenor launched 4G in July, said Roy.

He added that going forward, a challenge for mobility in Myanmar is the release of spectrum by the government in the 1800MHz, which will be critical to enable operators to expand 4G services in the future.

This rapid mobility uptake is also due to government efforts to liberalise the telecoms sector, having awarded mobile licenses to private players Ooredoo and Telenor in 2014. Within two years, mobile penetration rose from 15.9% in mid-2014 to 68% by the end of 2015, said Roy.

In contrast, fixed broadband remains unaffordable, with household penetration below 0.1%. The operators MPT, Telenor and Ooredoo continue to vie for market share with competitive data and voice pricing, coverage expansion and innovative services.

A fifth telco provider is expected to offer mobile services in early 2017, as Myanmar’s telecommunications regulator, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), is expected by year end to announce the results of its latest tender for a new nationwide telecommunications licence (NTL).

According to the Oxford Business Group, interest in the tender has been high. However, the successful bidder is likely face stiff competition from the operators already serving Myanmar’s increasingly crowded mobile market.

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