Qatar’s Ooredoo digs into Myanmar, says to target the mass market

* Plans to invest $350 mln in 2016, says to widen distribution

* Dismisses suggestions of Myanmar exit

* Ooredoo smallers telecom operator by subscriber numbers

YANGON, Jan 29 Qatari telecoms firm Ooredoo is investing more in Myanmar this year in a bid to broaden its appeal, the head of its local unit told Reuters, brushing aside suggestions that it would exit one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing markets.

Ooredoo, which has the least subscribers among its rivals, had focused on providing costly, higher-margin data services in a country that remains largely poor, a strategy its Myanmar Chief Executive Rene Meza said would now give way to a more “mass market” approach.

Ooredoo is already facing stiff competition from Norway’s Telenor and market leader state-backed Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), raising questions about its Myanmar investments at a time when it and other Gulf telecom firms are struggling in some emerging markets.

“We don’t see any slowdown in investment, any slowdown in executing our strategic initial plans for Myanmar,” Meza said in an interview. “Our commitment to continue investing remains pretty much intact.”

Asked about a potential exit, he said the company had plans to invest $350 million this year, on top of the $1.7 billion it has invested since starting operations in 2014. “I’ll leave the answer to you,” he said.

Ooredoo’s focus on costlier data services, however, has meant that it fell behind its rivals in signing up subscribers: MPT boasts 18 million customers, while Telenor has 12 million.

In a bid to bridge the gap, Meza said Ooredoo had slashed data prices from 10 kyat ($0.009) per MB to 6 kyat per MB last year and would also expand its distribution network.

“The initial approach when we launched services was not a mass market approach,” said Meza, who took over as CEO last year. “As you can imagine, it is a fast moving market. One year of delay, in terms of the right commercial execution, basically means the gap that you see in the market today.”

Ooredoo, like other Gulf telecom operators, had pushed into emerging markets such as Indonesia and Pakistan to counter competition at home, but with varying success: last year, it sold a stake in Philippines’ Liberty Telecommunications.

Myanmar accounts for a fraction of Ooredoo’s 115 million-strong customer base, but remains one of the most promising telecom markets in Asia three years after the military government liberalised the telecoms sector as part of economic reforms.

Mobile penetration is just over 60 percent, far lower than other Southeast Asian nations. Underscoring Myanmar’s potential, the government earlier this week said it had received bids for seven foreign firms for a fourth telecom licence.


Source: Reuters

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