Myanmar Gets at Least 4 Potential Bidders for Phone Licenses

Myanmar attracted at least four expressions of interest for telecommunications licenses to be issued as the nation tries to boost one of Asia’s lowest phone penetration rates following decades of military rule.

Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., Southeast Asia’s biggest phone company, Axiata Group Bhd., Malaysia’s largest cellular operator by market value, Singapore’s ST Telemedia Pte, a unit of Temasek Holdings Pte, and Norway’s Telenor ASA said they submitted expressions of interest to the Myanmar government before today’s deadline.

“It is a logical and interesting market to consider investing in,” Axiata said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News. “It represents a strategic market given its high growth potential.”

Myanmar is offering two licenses to boost telecom coverage to as much as 80 percent of the country by 2016, the government said Jan. 15 when inviting foreign companies to submit bids. Myanmar’s 5.44 million mobile-phone subscribers as of last month amounted to a 9 percent penetration rate, compared with 70 percent in Cambodia, 87 percent in Laos and more than 100 percent in Thailand, the ministry said. The country has a fixed-line penetration rate of about 1 percent, it said.

Than Zaw, a director at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, said today that a statement would be released, without giving a timeframe. Deputy Minister Maung Maung Thein at the Ministry of Finance and Revenue, who is a member of the selection board, said he has not yet been informed about the process. Ye Htut, a spokesman for President Thein Sein, was not immediately available to comment.

Creating Framework

“SingTel maintains an interest in investment opportunities in large, underpenetrated markets and will be financially disciplined in its evaluation of such opportunities,” the Singapore’s biggest phone company said in an e-mailed statement, adding that it submitted its interest with Myanmar partners.

The licenses will be issued by June and may last as long as 20 years with an option for renewal, the government said on Jan. 15. Myanmar’s parliament may approve a draft telecommunications law, which will include the creation of an independent regulator by 2015, in the first half of this year, it said.

The country of 64 million people has one of the lowest per-capita gross domestic products in Asia, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.

SingTel, which also owns Australia’s second-biggest phone company, holds stakes in mobile-phone operators in countries including Thailand, the Philippines and India. Kuala Lumpur-based Axiata already has mobile-phone interests in countries including India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

ST Telemedia owns stakes in technology and phone companies including StarHub Ltd., Singapore’s second-biggest telecommunications operator. It also holds shares of mobile-phone companies in Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as the largest cable-TV operator in the Philippines. compared with an average estimate of 25.4 billion kroner.

Oslo-based Telenor, the Nordic region’s biggest phone company by revenue, has wireless assets in Asia countries including Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh.

“We believe that we are well-positioned to contribute in developing a successful mobile industry in Myanmar,” Glenn Mandelid, a spokesman based in Thailand, said via e-mail.

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