Telenor and Qatar Telecom bag Myanmar mobile license, Airtel misses

India’s Bharti Airtel did not receive license to run telecom service in Myanmar, while Norway’s Telenor and Qatar Telecom clinched the opportunity to develop a new mobile market.

Earlier, Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal had committed $1 billion to develop Myanmar’s telecom market.

Besides India, Airtel is present in both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Presence in Myanmar would have been strategically important to Airtel to ramp up telecom revenue.

Telenor has presence in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Other bidders who lost in the race include Malaysia’s Axiata Group, Millicom International Cellular and Vietnam’s Viettel Group consortia led by Jamaica-based Digicel, MTN Dubai, Japan’s KDDI, Sumitomo and SingTel.

U.K. mobile operator Vodafone Group and China Mobile were among 12 finalists shortlisted by Myanmar, but both withdrew from the tender on grounds that the opportunity didn’t meet their internal investment criteria.

Digicel on Thursday said it remains committed to exploring commercial opportunities in Myanmar and will be evaluating these on an ongoing basis.

Myanmar’s telecom potential: Analysys Mason report

The two winners — Telenor and Qatar Telecom — will operate alongside Myanmar’s two existing telecommunications operators.

France Telecom, which partnered with Japan’s Marubeni for its bid, has however been named as a back-up candidate, and would replace Telenor or Qatar Telecom if either company fails to meet certain post-tender requirements.

Only 5.4 million out of Myanmar’s 60 million people own a mobile phone subscription as of the end of 2012, translating to a mobile penetration rate of 9 percent. This compares with 70 percent in Cambodia, 87 percent in Laos and over 100 percent in Thailand, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

After completing the present bid, Myanmar is planning to invite bids for providing Internet services and building a national fiber optic network. Myanmar has 14,000km of fiber and some 1,800 telecom masts.

Qatar Telecom and Telenor have enough expertise in handling emerging telecom markets.

The two new licenses, valid for 15 years, will be finalized by September. The licensees will have to meet population and geographical coverage targets, such as servicing the country’s large rural population. They would also have to share infrastructure and commit to offering low initial subscription fees.

By inviting private telecom companies, the Myanmar government wants to increase the percentage of the population owning a telephone to between 75 percent and 80 percent by 2015 to 2016.

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