Myanmar’s telecom market is witnessing a surge in data consumption. The entry of a new operator has altered the competition landscape significantly, driving down data prices. Consequently, mobile phone penetration has surpassed 90 per cent and more than 50 million users now have access to the internet and mobile phones. Operators are investing significantly to augment infrastructure and deploy fibre in order to deliver an enhanced 4G experience to customers.
The industry is also deliberating on 5G roll-out. The groundwork for 5G in Myanmar is being laid in the Myanmar National Broadband White Paper 2019 and the Spectrum Roadmap 2019. A look at the emerging 5G scenario in Myanmar…
Policy and regulation
Myanmar is currently in the process of formulating regulations for 5G and other next-generation technologies that will be supported by it. The Posts and Telecommunications Department is preparing a spectrum roadmap, for which it has invited suggestions and recommendations from stakeholders. In December 2018, it hosted the Myanmar 5G Forum 2018, themed “5G Bridges Myanmar to Future Digital World”, where regulators, industry experts and organisations deliberated on 5G development, applications and its potential impact on the country.
The objectives of the event were to discuss the future of the 4G/5G market in Myanmar, the revised spectrum roadmap for 2019 and the Myanmar National Broadband White Paper 2019 in order to migrate from 4G to 5G. The forum also aimed to encourage the growth of a digital Myanmar and to create a framework for the country’s 5G ecosystem including spectrum, infrastructure, devices, fibre, policies and regulations.
APT (Asia-Pacific Telecommunity) 700 MHz, TDD 2.6 GHz, 2.3 GHz and C band 3.5 GHz are being planned as the prime frequency bands for 4G and 5G in Myanmar over the next two years. The forum laid emphasis on the potential uses of 5G not only for mobile broadband but also for fixed wireless access and internet of things.
In December 2018, telecom operator Ooredoo, in partnership with equipment manufacturer Nokia, set up a 5G-ready technology centre in Myanmar. The Nokia Technology Center houses equipment such as Nokia’s multi-radio AirScale, which supports 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. It also has Anyhaul transport, including IP and microwave equipment, and a cloud-native core network and associated power infrastructure. In 2018, Ooredoo completed a 4G Pro network demonstration to showcase the readiness of its networks to support 5G.
In April 2018, Telenor Myanmar partnered with Ericsson for a network speed trial and reported a record peak speed of 1 Gbps. This trial extended Telenor and Ericsson’s partnership in improving Myanmar’s 5G readiness.
Meanwhile, Huawei has announced that it is committed and ready to bring 5G into Myanmar over the next two to three years. The company is currently a key vendor of 4G equipment in Myanmar and has collaborated with all the four telcos in the country. Although the country’s state-run telecom operator Myanma Posts and Telecommunications has not announced its 5G plans, it has been reportedly preparing its 5G roadmap. The operator is undertaking network enhancements.
The rise in data consumption has put a strain on the existing infrastructure of the country. Thus, telcos and towercos are looking to increase fiberisation in the country. However, the fiberisation level in Myanmar is very low at only around 10 per cent as compared to 70-80 per cent in developed countries such as China and the US. Such a low level of fiberisation is not suitable for a sustainable switch to 5G. Currently, Chinese fibre operator MOFCN and domestic player Eager own most of the fibre in Yangon while telcos also own and lease some of the fibre in Myanmar.
Myanmar has been a laggard in terms of latest technology adoption, with 4G gaining traction in the country only in 2018. Currently, only about 20 per cent of Myanmar’s population has access to 4G, and thus it can be safely assumed that 5G is still a couple of years away. In addition, the 5G device ecosystem is at a nascent stage globally.
Going forward, a strong focus on developing the 5G infrastructure, framing supporting policies and creating a device ecosystem will be needed to build on the momentum of 4G and launch 5G.