DUBAI Oct 2 Ooredoo is in talks with
Norway's Telenor to share transmitter towers in
Myanmar, seeking cost savings as they build networks in one of
the world's least developed telecom markets, a top executive at
the Qatari firm said.
Myanmar awarded the country's first foreign-held mobile
licences to the two companies in June after receiving interest
from more than 90 companies and consortiums. At the time,
Ooredoo said it planned to spend $15 billion over the 15-year
"It's a green-field launch and we're going to build the
network in partnership with Telenor," Jeremy Sell, Ooredoo's
chief strategy officer, told a conference in Dubai on Wednesday.
"This has never been done before - we're rolling out two
green-field networks and anything made of steel or concrete we
want to share. There are no towers that are so strategic you
can't share them."
Sell said this would enable Ooredoo, majority-owned by
Qatar's government, to make "considerable" savings.
A spokesman for Telenor did not return calls or email
Two state-backed firms - Yatanarpon Teleport (YTP) and
Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT) - already hold mobile
licences. YTP functions primarily as an internet service
provider, while MPT - a department of the Communications
Ministry - acts as both a regulator and operator.
But these have made little headway in developing the
communications sector. Mobile penetration was just 11 percent in
2012 - only Eritrea, Somalia and North Korea had fewer
subscriptions per capita - while 1 percent of the country's
estimated 60 million people use the Internet, according to the
International Telecommunication Union.
Sell said discussions with Telenor were continuing, adding
Ooredoo would likely also work with the two local operators.
"We might even outsource the entire build," he said.
Splitting capital costs would make reaching rural areas more
economically viable, with Myanmar posing big challenges.
"No one speaks English, we can't get galvanized steel," said
Sell. "There aren't enough cranes. The country is covered in
jungle. The roads flood. There's no power. It's a bit like
Thailand was 30 years ago - it's a pristine and beautiful but
Edwin Vanderbruggen of law firm VDB Loi, which has offices
in Myanmar and neighbouring countries, said foreign operators
faced a legal maze in securing land for tower sites.
"Imagine having to sign up an average of 60 leases in a
week, often in areas without land-title paperwork, and getting
approvals for each one of them from different ministries," said
Vanderbruggen. "It's the regulatory equivalent of rolling out a
network on Mount Everest."
A quasi-civilian government came to power in Myanmar in 2011
after 49 years of military rule, ushering in economic reforms
and ending the country's international isolation.
"We're launching with a 3G network - for 60 million
that will be their first chance to ever go on the Internet,"
said Sell. "So far, they're letting us do it - (to) open access
to the entire world for a whole population that has never really
seen anything except state media."
The government approved more foreign direct investment in
the five months to Sept. 20 than for all of 2012.
"Us and Telenor and other investors in the country, we don't
want to put a huge amount of money in straight away," said Sell.
"We've still got to be a bit cautious and see how it goes."
(Additional reporting by Jared Ferrie in Yangon; Editing by