YANGON -- Telecom equipment maker ZTE signed a memorandum of understanding to help develop fifth-generation wireless networks in Myanmar on Wednesday, the same day the U.S. moved to blacklist compatriot Huawei Technologies in an attempt to keep Chinese products out of the field.
ZTE will collaborate with Ooredoo Myanmar, the local unit of a Qatari mobile carrier. This is the first concrete move toward 5G development made public in Myanmar, which like other Southeast Asian nations, aims to launch 5G service as soon as possible.
"We look forward to working with ZTE Corporation on this exciting new initiative," Alok Verma, acting CEO of Ooredoo Myanmar, said Wednesday. The duo will consider launching test environments in Myanmar that will be open to the public by the end of the year.
Myanmar shares a border and has deep political ties to China. Its four mobile carriers are all believed to use equipment made by ZTE or Huawei, despite the U.S. urging the international community to boycott Chinese telecom gear makers citing security risks. "It's because it's cheap," an industry insider said.
Ooredoo launched Myanmar operations in 2014. It currently has about 11 million subscribers in the country, making it the third-biggest player after Myanma Posts and Communications, which partners with Japan's KDDI and Sumitomo Corp., and Norway's Telenor.
Some advanced economies, including the U.S. and Australia, are moving to ban Chinese telecoms equipment from their 5G networks. However, many emerging economies have not taken a clear stance.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Commerce Department placed Huawei on its Entity List, which requires U.S. companies and foreign entities to obtain licenses if their businesses relate to "the sale or transfer of American technology to a company or person" on the list.
Myanmar's 4G services began in 2017, with the transition to 5G expected no sooner than the early 2020s. Before then, the government would have to allocate 5G frequencies to carriers, and the wider public would need to adopt 5G-compatible smartphones.