It seems like everyone is getting mobile phones in Myanmar this year. With the price of phones, especially new brands of “smart phones,” dropping dramatically this year, along with new telecom companies offering SIM cards at a fraction of the previously high price, legions of locals are finally getting connected.
Having access to cell phones may not seem like an earthshaking event to Westerners who have become accustomed to using such devices the past decade or two, but for the average person in Myanmar, unable to use cellular devices due to the prohibitive cost or simply the lack of a reliable network, this sudden new era of connectivity is absolutely amazing.
Last week the Norwegian telecom company Telenor launched 2G and 3G services in Mandalay, offering SIM cards for 1,500 kyat, or less than US$2. Contrast that to what a SIM card cost only a year or two ago in Myanmar — around $200 — and you can understand the excitement among the populace. Everybody wants one! Yes indeed, the communication landscape in Myanmar has changed almost overnight.
During my trip last month I saw waiters at Aye Myit Tar in Mandalay with new phones and monks in Shan State (no, not the novice monks!) clutching iPhones. Even my little photographer apprentice Zin Ko now has a fancy new Huawei phone, complete with music, games, and videos. Mind boggling, just mind boggling.
The first company to launch service in Myanmar, Ooredoo, has already been advertising their services heavily around the country previous to Telenor’s recent launch. You couldn’t escape their billboards and other advertising. I can imagine the competition is only going to get fiercer and the demand will remain sky high.