The 12 groups shortlisted for two telecoms licences for Myanmar include major industry heavyweights and, according to an analyst, MTN will have its hands full in obtaining what he believes to be the hottest opportunity in telecoms.
Last week (11 April), the Myanmar Telecommunications Ministry announced MTN as one of 12 operators that had prequalified to submit bids for two nation-wide telecommunications licences in the country by June 3.
It is believed that up to 90 parties had expressed interest in bidding for a licence in Myanmar due to its attractive opportunity by virtue of its population (60 million) and low mobile penetration rate (approximately 5%).
For MTN, winning a licence bid in the south-east Asia country would come at a good time for a company which is facing stiff competition in its native country, South Africa.
Indeed, MTN, which has a market value of $34 billion, has operations in 22 countries across Africa and the Middle East, said last week that it could spend up to $8 billion on an acquisition and is looking for targets on the continent, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Investment analyst and partner at First Avenue Investment Management, Nadim Mohamed believes that it will be tough going forward for the likes of MTN and its competitors, as regulators become more active in stimulating competition and lower prices.
“We see this happening both in SA and in rest of Africa. MTN is therefore looking at acquisitions to stimulate growth – Myanmar would be exciting,” Mohamed said.
He noted that, with a penetration rate of less than 5%, “I would expect it to be possibly the hottest telecom opportunity globally and I’m sure bidding will be very competitive. Bidders such as Bharti Airtel, Digicel and China Mobile / Vodafone are quite formidable.”
Telcos in the running:
|Bharti Airtel||India||262 million|
|France Telecom-Orange||France||231 million|
|MTN||South Africa||189 million|
|Ooredoo (Qtel)||Qatar||90 million|
|Vodafone/China Mobile consortium||UK/China||391 million / 1.13 billion|
Vodacom’s parent company Vodafone announced earlier this month that it had teamed up with China Mobile to bid for a licence in the South East Asian country.
In his weekly column in the Sunday Times last weekend, Rob Rose, the editor of the Sunday Times’s Business Times, highlighted the shady political and social past of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Given MTN’s chequered past in Iran, he noted that the group will need to be extra cautious in how it goes about securing that licence.
News agency Quartz highlighted the importance of foreign investors in Myanmar teaming up with local partners, but added that it was “extremely hard to find Burmese business partners that do not have strong junta connections”.
“There are very few businesses or business people that our Western investors would consider to be clean,” one private equity manager reportedly said.
MTN and partner
According to Rose, MTN has selected Amara Communications, a subsidiary of International Group of Entrepreneurs (IGE), which is owned by the sons of a former industry minister Aung Thaung.
Thaung has been described as “one of the country’s most corrupt officials” and his sons through IGE, are believed to have benefited from his political standing.
Independent Burmese news website Irrawaddy said: “Pyi Aung and Nay Aung are thought to have become multimillionaires using their father’s position in Than Shwe’s junta to advance their business interests.”