Vodafone Group PLC, China Mobile Ltd (中國移動) and an investment fund linked to billionaire investor George Soros are among 22 bidders vying to enter Myanmar, one of the world’s last unexplored mobile telephone frontiers.
Foreign giants are lining up in the hope of doing business in the former army-ruled country, where less than 10 percent of the population has access to a telephone — a figure its government hopes to boost to 80 percent by 2016.
“Our telecoms sector has been so outdated,” Burmese Deputy Minister of National Planning and Economic Development Set Aung said. “We can’t rely on small companies, so we decided to work with internationally known and experienced companies.”
Twenty-two companies and consortiums submitted applications ahead of Thursday’s deadline and would be vetted for inclusion in the tender process, Set Aung said.
Vodafone and China Mobile announced that they were teaming up to bid for one of two licenses on offer to build, own and operate a nationwide mobile network for an initial term of 15 years.
Myanmar’s communications sector is poised for a “rapid” expansion as the government doubles the number of mobile operators and encourages the development of a nationwide mobile network, the companies said in a joint statement.
Quantum Strategic Partners, whose principal investment adviser is Soros Fund Management, has joined forces with telecoms provider Digicel Group Ltd and YSH Finance, a newly established holding company, to enter the fray.
“It’s quite a big opportunity,” Digicel spokeswoman Antonia Graham said. “We are looking at an initial project investment of between US$1.5 billion and US$2 billion.”
Other companies that have expressed an interest include Japan’s KDDI Corp, Qatar Telecom QSC, Orange PLC and Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, according to a source close to the process.
The government is expected to announce on Thursday which firms have pre-qualified. A final decision on the winning bidders is expected on June 27.
State-owned giant Myanmar Post and Telecommunications announced on Thursday that it would start selling SIM cards for less than US$2.
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