As you start to walk on the way, the way appears – Rumi
Qatari mobile network operator Ooredoo is in talks to sell its Myanmar subsidiary and become the latest and last foreign telecoms operator to exit the country, according to Reuters sources. Exit strategies from Myanmar can be a long and expensive process, as Norway’s Telenor discovered when began its withdrawal in January 2020.
The Doha-based Ooredoo has informed the national regulator, Myanmar’s Posts and Telecommunications Department (PTD), of its intention to sell a unit that was once Myanmar’s third-biggest operator, with nearly 15 million users in 2020. That was before the industry was disrupted by February 2021’s military coup.
The main potential buyers for the company include Myanmar conglomerate Young Investment Group, Singapore-headquartered network infrastructure operator Campana Group, and telecoms company SkyNet, an insider told Reuters. Skynet is owned by Myanmar group Shwe Than Lwin. Talks between the three suitors have not yet reached final stages, said Reuter’s Fanny Potkin, who has exclusive contacts in the area.
Ooredoo’s investment in Myanmar is not known but it had built up 9 million customers in 2022, according to its earnings, which was down from 15 million in 2020, from which it had reported revenue of €330 million. The telecoms sector in Myanmar has faced increased pressure since the military seized power in 2021, after previously having been one of Asia’s fastest-growing markets. Mobile data remains shut down in part of the country, after nationwide restrictions on the internet throughout 2021.
Earlier this week, Myanmar’s central bank ordered domestic companies and banks to suspend and reschedule repayment of foreign loans. Ooredoo is the last majority foreign-owned telecoms company in Myanmar after Norway’s Telenor withdrew from the country in March this year in a departure mired in difficulty. Telenor sold its business unit for €95 million in March 2022, which is now majority-owned by Myanmar firm Shwe Byain Phyu, with a minority stake purchased by Lebanese investment firm M1.
However, the Norwegian’s teleco’s exit strategy was criticised because it left the subscribers to the former Telenor subsidiary exposed, as the new owner was seen as a gateway to the nation’s military regime to snoop on citizens who’d trusted Telenor Myanmar to protect their privacy. Telenor told Reuters in 2021 it had to sell its operations to avoid European Union sanctions after “continued pressure” from the junta to activate intercept surveillance technology.
Other telecoms service providers in the country are MPT, a large state-backed operator, and Mytel, a venture between Myanmar’s army and Viettel, owned by Vietnam’s defence ministry. In July 2021 an order was issued banning senior foreign telecoms executives from leaving the country without permission, said Reuters. The travel ban was followed by a second order instructing telecoms firms to fully activate the intercept.