Interview: U Shane Thu Aung
Since the alleviation of sanctions Myanmar has seen the entrance of many international companies. What incentives are in place to attract foreign investors interested in the ICT sector?
U SHANE THU AUNG: Myanmar has seen the entrance of many international firms because the country is a “green field” and is relatively new to the outside world. Many opportunities exist in every industry, especially ICT, though many issues still need to be resolved. Myanmar is a last frontier, with a large and educated population with adaptive skills, making it one of the most attractive markets in Asia. Millions of people are waiting to connect to the globe through digital communications devices, including mobile and broadband connectivity. ICT will play a vital role in providing transparent governance. The sector’s development is key to the development of other industries. The government and the Union Parliament are pushing for Myanmar to become a secure, clean and transparent environment, especially in the ICT and telecoms sectors. To this end, the Union Parliament approved a telecoms law in October 2013, and I believe this marks a great moment for the future of the sector.
How is the local ICT market likely to develop with the inclusion of two international mobile networks?
SHANE THU AUNG: It is still “hope for the best” over the next 12 months in the ICT market. It will in the long run have a huge impact on the people of the nation, especially for those in disconnected areas, who will benefit from connectivity. The aggressive network roll-out plan and commitments – along with the support of regional and international engineering and services companies – will result in the launching of new mobile service providers within eight months. Aside from the two international operators, two local mobile operators will also take on the responsibility of developing the local ICT industry. Myanmar faces many restrictions, including transaction costs to run businesses in the telecoms and ICT industries, which are going to be very high in comparison to other emerging markets. In time, the ICT industry in Myanmar will definitely change to the voice and data markets.
What challenges does the ICT industry face in improving the quality of its workforce?
SHANE THU AUNG: Myanmar has a gap in soft resources, in terms of quality and quantity of skilled personnel for a knowledge-based society. It will take time to improve the workforce. Modernising the education framework is an important objective. Changing from a teacher-centric system to a student-centric one is going to be the biggest challenge, not only for the ICT sector but also for the enhancement of the workforce.
The upcoming mobile communications network will bring tremendous opportunities and changes to the knowledge of millions of people, who will learn through 3G and the internet. Geographical and time differences will be eliminated. Skills development is a national priority and will assist the foundation of Myanmar in the years to come. Through teledensity and ICT development, Myanmar can close the gap between itself and the developed world. The degree of adaptive skills, learning skills, eagerness and entrepreneurial skills of the young generation will shape the future Myanmar.
What difficulties do you expect to face while expanding internet coverage to rural areas? What plans are in place to increase coverage?
SHANE THU AUNG: Electricity, infrastructure and proper government support are all blanks that need to be filled while increasing internet coverage to rural areas. Major investment is expected to be needed to ensure that broadband connectivity is successfully implemented and installed in rural areas. The majority of these funds will need to be channelled into infrastructure and electricity development. Local Institutions need to take the leading role to expand high-speed broadband to rural areas and narrow the digital divide. Myanmar has decided to overcome whatever difficulties await.
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