Telecom’s hottest property

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%).

Formidable competition

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:

Network Country Subcribers
Axiata Malaysia 208 million
Bharti Airtel India 262 million
Digicel Carribean 13 million
France Telecom-Orange France 231 million
KDDI Japan 32 million
Millicom Luxembourg 42 million
MTN South Africa 189 million
Ooredoo (Qtel) Qatar 90 million
SingTel Singapore 445 million
Telenor Norway 133 million
Viettel Vietnam 61 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.

Political reminder

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.”

More on Myanmar

Vodacom parent Co in Myanmar licence bid

MTN clears first Myanmar hurdle

MTN could spend R71bn on acquisition: CEO

MTN in Myanmar telco licence bunfight

MTN actively pursuing Myanmar licence

MTN targeting South East Asia?

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Telecom’s hottest property