By Kate Holton
LONDON, April 4 China Mobile, Vodafone
and a group backed by George Soros entered the race to
secure a mobile licence in Myanmar, as the battle to operate in
one of the last major untapped markets kicked off.
The Chinese and British groups, the first and second-largest
operators in the world respectively, said on Thursday they had
formed a consortium to bid for a licence in the former Burma,
where the government wants to increase the number of mobile
operators from two to four.
In a separate consortium, Denis O'Brien's Digicel joined
forces with billionaire investor George Soros' Quantum Strategic
Partners and Serge Pun, a well known business leader in Myanmar.
That consortium is looking at an initial project investment
of between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, a person familiar with
the situation said.
The groups made their intentions known as the deadline for
pre-qualification applications closed, joining the likes of
Africa's largest mobile phone company MTN, India's top
mobile operator Bharti Airtel and Singapore's SingTel
in expressing an interest.
The presence of such big names reflects the wider interest
in the country, since its military stepped aside and a
quasi-civilian government took over in 2011, setting off a wave
of political and economic reforms.
Myanmar, where SIM cards are prohibitively expensive, has
said it hopes to increase mobile penetration from 5-10 percent
to 80 percent in three years, lifting it off the bottom of the
world's ladder of mobile use.
The country stands out as a rare opportunity in
international telecommunications as operators battle stagnant
markets in Europe and rapid growth but very low prices in
"With a comparatively young and highly literate population
of around 60 million, a GDP growth rate of 5.5 percent per annum
and mobile phone penetration currently below 10 percent ...
Myanmar will be an important new market for the global mobile
industry," Vodafone said.
Two licences are being tendered to authorise the holders to
build, own and operate a mobile network on a nationwide basis
for a term of 15 years.
"The liberalisation of the telecommunications market in
Myanmar will serve as an important economic stimulus for the
country," said Soros.