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Investment is now pouring into new democracy Myanmar. Here’s a snapshot of what has been described as the world’s first mobile-only country…

When President Thein Sein of Myanmar conceded the 2015 general election to Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, he did it with a post on Facebook.

This is remarkable, given that Facebook was not officially available in Myanmar until 2011. The anecdote serves to symbolise the radical changes taking place in the country that used to be called Burma.

After five decades of military rule, Myanmar is on its way to democracy. In so doing, it has become one of the fastest growing economies in Asia Pac.

Not surprisingly, mobile is playing a pivotal part in its social and economic transformation.

A recent report – Spotlight on Myanmar – by researcher Millward Brown for the ad agency WPP described Myanmar as ‘not just a mobile-first environment but also a mobile only market’. It also suggests that the country is set to become the first in the world to bypass the feature phone stage and go straight to smartphone.

It reads: “If you thought China’s transformation was fast, then look out. This is a market evolving at an unprecedented rate. When markets such as China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia began opening up, the internet was yet to come; mobile phones were a thing of the future. In Myanmar, technology is going to be part of the country’s transformation right from the beginning.”

The report also describes a flourishing economy with plentiful opportunities for local and international brands. But interestingly, domestic mobile brands rank as the most popular. The survey said mobile network Telenor is the most innovative brand, with rivals MPT and Ooredoo at second and third, respectively.

MPT is the most loved brand in the survey, nine points ahead of Samsung, and 11 points ahead of Telenor and Huawei.

Here’s a data snapshot of the world’s fastest growing and most mobile-centric market…

DemographicsScreen Shot 2016-08-23 at 15.32.37

  • Population – 51.5m
  • Gender – 52 per cent female
  • Median age – 28.3 years
  • Literacy rate – 93.1 per cent
  • Mobile penetration – 80 per cent
  • Smartphone share of mobile users – 80 per cent
  • Computer penetration – 3.5 per cent
  • Landline penetration – 4.8 per cent
  • TV penetration – 49.5 per cent
  • 2016 GDP growth forecast – 7.8 per cent
  • ‘Middle and affluent class’ – 10.3 million people by 2020 (source: Boston Consulting)
  • Facebook users – 7 million

(source: Spotlight on Myanmar)

Mobile penetration

Myanmar’s mobile penetration rate has gone from 10 per cent in 2014 to around 80 per cent now. That’s 43 million users, as of April. By comparison, it took Thailand and Indonesia around eight years to go from 10 per cent to 100 per cent penetration.

The plummeting cost of mobile connectivity has driven adoption. Reports say the cost of a mobile SIM has gone from $2,000 to just $1.50 in two years. Meanwhile voice rates fell by half in a year to to between 20 kyat and 30 kyat a minute (around 2 US cents).

Mobile networks

There are three operators active in Myanmar. The market leader is state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) with 20 million customers. Second is Norway’s Telenor, which reported a subscriber base of 16.9 million customers in its Q2 results. Then there’s Ooredoo with just over 8 million users.

A fourth operator, run by Vietnam’s Viettel and a local consortium, is currently negotiating for a licence.

  • MPT – 20 million
  • Telenor – 16.9 million
  • Ooredoo – 8 million


Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 15.44.56Android dominates Myanmar with 92 per cent market share. iOS has 4.7 per cent.

In 2015, China’s Huawei claimed to be the top OEM in the country. It reported a 120 per cent increase in smartphone shipments in Q1 to post a market share of more than 50 per cent.

Precise shares are hard to come by, but reports suggest that the ‘new’ brands such as Vivo, Oppo, CoolPad and others sell millions of devices. One Forbes article highlighted a $19.44 smartphone for sale in Yangon by Thai brand True.

4G rollout

In May Ooredoo became the first carrier to launch 4G services in Myanmar with coverage across the two largest cities of Yangon and Mandalay. It reached 500,000 4G customers in three months.

Shortly after Ooredoo’s debut, Telenor launched 4G in Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital, with plans to expand to other cities.

The operators will accelerate their rollouts when more spectrum becomes available. And the Myanmar government will oblige. It recently confirmed it will auction 2,600MHz spectrum in October. The three existing carriers currently use the 900MHz and 2,100MHz bands.

Mobile behaviour

A 2015 report by LirneAsia detailed the typical voice, messaging and content consumption of Myanmar subscribers. Here’s a graphic.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 12.24.19