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Qatar firm opens up Myanmar mobile market

YANGON -- Qatari telecoms firm Ooredoo began selling low-cost SIM cards in Myanmar on Saturday, opening up access to mobile services in one of the world's last virtually untapped phone markets.

Less than 10 percent of the population are thought to have access to a telephone in Myanmar where the exorbitant cost of a SIM under former junta rule made mobile phones a luxury.

But last year the reformist government led by President Thein Sein awarded telecom licences to Ooredoo as well as Norway's Telenor, part of a wider move to open up markets previously monopolized by state firms.

“This is history that we made here today,” said Ooredoo Myanmar CEO Ross Cormack at a press conference in Yangon, adding the firm was bringing the very latest technologies to the long-isolated nation.

The SIM card was officially launched for sale Saturday in the major cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw at a price of 1,500 kyat (US$1.5), a fraction of the cost of ordinary cards in Myanmar which retail at about US$200. Under junta rule a SIM could go for more than US$1,500.

Mobile Buzz

Ooredoo billboards advertising traditionally garbed women holding a parasol in one hand and a mobile in the other have plastered downtown Yangon streets for weeks, helping to build a buzz around the launch.

Several million SIM cards will be on sale from 6,500 dealers, according to Cormack, ahead of a wider rollout to cover 68 towns and cities, around and including the three hubs launched Saturday, by mid-August.

But some shops were reported to have started selling advance stock as early as last week with cases of vendors demanding above the retail price and even selling out.

“I bought two SIM cards yesterday for 5,000 kyat each. The price is still very cheap if you compare it with what was previously available,” Khaing Moe, a university student, told AFP.

Rival Telenor, which also plans to sell its SIM cards for 1,500 kyat, said it would launch in Myanmar in September.

“Healthy mobile competition in the mobile industry will benefit consumers in Myanmar and we are confident that Telenor will become the most affordable offering in the market,” firm spokeswoman Hanne Knudsen told AFP.

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