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4G wireless service takes off in Myanmar

Ooredoo advertises its 4G wireless services in Yangon. Within the first three months of offering 4G, the company gained 500,000 new subscribers.

YANGON -- Myanmar has stepped into the era of the fourth generation of mobile technology, with the three leading wireless carriers rapidly shifting to 4G services.

Qatar's Ooredoo built up its 4G wireless network infrastructure in Myanmar's four major cities by the end of August.

Norway's Telenor Group and state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications are seeking to win new mobile licenses at the scheduled spectrum auction in October to enhance their 4G operations.

With high-speed data technology becoming available in wider areas in the country, which was a telecom backwater until recently, mobile service providers are shifting the focus of their business strategies from voice calls to wireless internet.

Nokia of Finland, which develops wireless infrastructure for Ooredoo in Myanmar, announced at the end of August that it had finished building 4G networks in four cities -- Yangon, the largest city, Naypyitaw, the capital, Mandalay in north Myanmar, the second largest city, and Bagan in the center of the nation.

Nokia said it had upgraded Ooredoo's 3G networks into 4G systems.

In May, Ooredoo said it would be the first carrier to launch 4G services in Myanmar by using part of the 2,100 MHz spectrum it had been using for 3G services.

Within the first three months of offering the service, more than 500,000 new subscribers signed up. With 4G networks completed in the four key cities, Ooredoo is planning to expand its 4G services.

Auction expectations

The scheduled spectrum auction by the Ministry of Transport and Communications will give an additional boost to the popularization of 4G.

In August, the ministry started the process of selecting providers that should be given the rights to operate the 2,600 MHz radio frequency band, which has not been made available so far.

Some 20 companies including MPT, Telenor and Yatanarpon Teleport, a major local internet service provider, have passed the ministry's preliminary screening. New licenses will be granted to several of these companies to be selected through an auction in mid-October.

In July, Telenor rolled out 4G services in Naypyitaw by using part of the 2,100 MHz band it had been using for 3G operations. If it wins a license to operate the 2,600 MHz band, the company will be able to expand coverage for its 4G services.

MPT offers mainly 2G and 3G services at the moment, but will consider introducing 4G using the 2,600 MHz band.

The Transport and Communications Ministry may also auction off 1,800 MHz licenses, and Ooredoo is keenly interested in that band.

In March, the Myanmar government tentatively decided to grant Viettel, a Vietnamese mobile network operator under the control of the country's military, a license for providing mobile services in the country. Viettel, which has become the fourth wireless carrier in Myanmar, plans to launch 4G services in the near future. The company has announced its intention to spend $1.5 billion to build its own 4G network in Myanmar.

As wireless carriers are rushing into the 4G market, leading handset makers such as South Korea's Samsung Electronics and China's Huawei and Xiaomi have been racing to bring their 4G ready smartphones into Myanmar's market since July.

During Myanmar's military rule, MPT monopolized the country's wireless market. Ooredoo and Telenor were allowed to enter the market following liberalization in August 2014.

Competition among the three carriers has led to the rapid development of mobile infrastructure and cuts in cellphone charges. Altogether, the companies had some 46 million subscribers as of June, a 70% jump in two years.

The three companies currently draw most of their earnings from calling charges. The growing use of social networking sites like Facebook, however, is pushing up the ratio of data communications in their network traffic. The wider availability of high-speed data technology is likely to accelerate the trend further.

Because of the improving network infrastructure, various new internet-based services are also emerging. Telenor, for instance, has announced a partnership with local Yoma Bank for the development of mobile banking services.

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