Owning a mobile phone in once-reclusive Myanmar is about to get a lot easier and cheaper

Owning a mobile phone in once-reclusive Myanmar is about to get a lot easier and cheaper

The mobile revolution in Myanmar, a country that was once one of the most reclusive in the world, is kicking up a gear after Telenor confirmed it will launch its much-anticipated mobile service in the country this weekend.

The Norway-headquartered company is the highest profile operator to enter Myanmar (also known as Burma) since the country ended decades of military rule in 2012.

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Telenor’s entry represents another important step towards democratizing mobile phones in Myanmar. SIM cards once cost $200 (or upwards of $1,500 during military rule) making them too expensive for most of the population. Qatari firm Ooredoo introduced $1.50-priced SIMs in August, prompting huge queues, and Telenor is following suit with the same low prices — meaning greater choice and increased availability.

This was the scene when Ooredoo launched in August:

Ooredoo began servicing the capital Yangon and major cities Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw, but Telenor is starting out slower covering just Mandalay initially. It plans to go live in the other cities over the coming few weeks, and then “will continue to expand to other cities and regions as more [cell] towers are completed.” The two overseas firms won a tender to bring mobile services in Myanmar last year, and compete with state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunication.

Myanmar has a population of 60 million 50 million,  but less than 10 percent are estimated to own a mobile phone and less than one percent are thought to have internet access. Given that SIM card penetration exceeds 100 percent of the population in many neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has plenty of catching up to do — it will be fascinating to see how many of its population jump straight into smartphones, or just begin with regular cell phones.

In a world in which owning a mobile phone is becoming ubiquitous, Myanmar is a fascinating place right now.

Image via Soe Than Win / Getty Images

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