THE two Singapore firms in the race for Myanmar's highly coveted telecommunications licences failed to make it across the finish line on Thursday.
SingTel, Singapore's largest telco, and Yoma Strategic Holdings, a Singapore-listed company focused on Myanmar operations, both lost in the contest for two 15-year licences to operate telecoms services in Myanmar.
Instead, Norway's Telenor and Qatar's Ooredoo, formerly Qatar Telecom, will be the first foreign companies to enter one of the world's last virtually untapped mobile phone markets.
France Telecom's Orange, which tied up with Japan's Marubeni Corporation, was named as a back-up in case either of the winners fails to fulfil the post-selection requirements.
Ahead of the result, which was announced on Thursday evening Singapore time, SingTel's shares surged while Yoma's were halted from trading.
SingTel, which had teamed up with Myanmar partners KBZ and M-Tel, saw its share price jump 12 cents, or 3.3 per cent, to close at $3.72 yesterday.
Shares of Yoma, which had partnered Jamaica's Digicel and Mr George Soros' Quantum Strategic Partners for the bid, closed at 96 cents on Wednesday, down 1 cent from the day before.
Interestingly, Ooredoo has a link to StarHub. Ooredoo owns a 25 per cent stake in Asia Mobile Holdings with Singapore Technologies Telemedia owning the rest. Asia Mobile has a 57 per cent stake in StarHub.
Myanmar's telecommunications sector, until recently tightly controlled by the government, is considered one of the most potentially lucrative in the slowly modernising economy. Only 9 per cent of the 60 million population have cellphones, but the government aims to raise telecom coverage to 75 to 80 per cent by 2016.
More than 90 companies and consortia around the world had thrown their hats into the ring for Myanmar's telco licences, but only 12 made it as finalists.
These included India's Bharti Airtel, Malaysia's Axiata, Japan's KDDI Corp, Africa's MTN, Vietnam's Viettel, and Millicom, headquartered in Luxembourg.
A consortium comprising Vodafone and China Mobile, the world's two largest mobile operators, was also shortlisted but abandoned the bid amid concerns over investment returns.
Myanmar's decision to award the licences yesterday came despite the country's Parliament voting on Wednesday to postpone the process.
Parliament had voted to put off awarding the licences until a telecoms law was in place.
The Myanmar government yesterday said it will now enter the process of finalising the award of the licences, which will be granted according to the new telecoms law expected to be adopted by Parliament in the current session.
The licence awardees will have to provide voice services across three-quarters of Myanmar within five years.
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