The government last week formally awarded its fourth telecoms licence to a joint venture involving Vietnam’s Viettel, the culmination of a process that began when international tenders were called more than a year ago, media reports said.
The Ministry of Transport and Communication awarded the licence to Myanmar National Tele & Communications Co Ltd at a ceremony in Nay Pyi Taw on January 12.
The project’s joint venture and tender selection committee said in March last year that it expected approval for the licence to be issued in June.
Viettel, owned by Vietnam’s military, has a 49 percent share in the joint venture and its Myanmar partners, Myanmar National Telecom Holding Public and Star High Public Co, hold 23 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
Star High Public Co is a subsidiary of Tatmadaw-owned conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation. Reuters newsagency said the venture was an “unusual” case of cooperation between businesses controlled by the military in the two countries.
Myanmar National Telecom Holding Public is a consortium of 11 firms.
The new operator “will help advance telecommunication in townships, rural mountain towns and will contribute to improving transportation, healthcare and education necessary for the people living in rural areas”, Minister for Transport and Communication U Thant Sin Maung said at the Nay Pyi Taw ceremony.
At a news conference after the ceremony, MNTC spokesperson U Zaw Min Oo acknowledged that the new operator would face strong competition.
“Our company is the last one to enter the market and almost everyone has SIM cards. But we will do our best in this market, and we will try to ensure our communication network reaches 95 percent of the population,” he was quoted as saying by the Myanmar Times.
Zaw Min Oo said MNTC would start issuing SIM cards later this year and launch services in 2018, the newspaper reported.
Viettel, which operates in several countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas, said in April it planned to invest US$1.5 billion (S$2.13 billion) in Myanmar.
MNTC will become the second Myanmar-majority telecoms operator after state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications, which formed a partnership in 2014 with Japanese companies KDDI and Sumitomo Corporation.
The mobile phone market has achieved stunning growth since Norway-based Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo launched services in 2014, ending a monopoly held by MPT.
MPT leads the market with about 21 million subscribers, Reuters said in November, followed by Telenor with 18 million subscribers and Ooredoo, with a reported 9 million subscribers.