Qatar-based Ooredoo has launched mobile services in three cities in Myanmar ahead of a wider commercial launch later this year.
The mobile operator, which along with Telenor won one of two 15-year licences to provide mobile communications services in Myanmar, said mobile voice and internet services would initially be available in Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon free of charge during a promotional period.
The next stage will be to expand coverage of the company's 3G network in the 900-MHz spectrum band to 68 cities and towns by Aug. 15. SIM cards are already being sold by Ooredoo's network of 6,500 dealers and cost $1.50 (€1.1) each.
"As we undertake final preparations for launch and optimise the network we would like to extend an invitation to those living in Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon to try out our next-generation technology, hence our offer of free services during this time. By Aug. 15 we will deliver high-definition voice calls, stronger signal and fast internet everywhere we have coverage," said Ross Cormack, CEO of Ooredoo Myanmar.
Ooredoo and Telenor won their respective licences in June 2013, although the process was eventually delayed until January 2014 and put back original plans by the two operators to launch services in the first half of this year. Telenor Myanmar is expected to start selling its SIM cards for around the same price as Ooredoo from September.
The two companies will also compete with state-run Myanma Posts & Telecommunications (MPT), which in July reached an agreement with KDDI and Sumitomo Corp. to jointly develop "Japanese quality" telecoms services in the country.
Cynthia Gordon, chief digital services officer at Ooredoo, called Myanmar "the next telecoms frontier" during a keynote session at the TM Forum Live conference in France in June. The market presents a strong opportunity for the operators, with mobile penetration estimated to stand at around 10 per cent of the 60 million people in the country.
It hasn't all been plain sailing so far: in June, Buddhist monks called for consumers in Myanmar to boycott Ooredoo because the company is headquartered in Qatar, where the majority of people follow Islam.
Gordon also noted that Ooredoo has been forced to take unusual measures to deploy its network in Myanmar, such as using oxen to carry equipment, while new solutions such as community hubs have to be considered for charging mobile phones because of the limited electricity coverage.
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