Digicel takes on the big boys in Myanmar

Here’s a piece I wrote about the, for some somewhat obscure, Digicel and its efforts to win a slice of Myanmar’s mobile pie. You can read the rest here.

SINGAPORE, April 29 | Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:54pm EDT
(Reuters) – Cellular operator Digicel Group Ltd jumped into Myanmar early and big, hiring staff, funding local sports, negotiating land deals for thousands of cell tower sites and signing up hundreds of partners for retail outlets.
The strategy helped propel it onto the shortlist for a mobile licence in one of the world’s last mobile frontiers, putting an operator that ranks 65th globally in terms of customers up against giants such as Vodafone Group Plc.
Whether its strategy pays off or not, industry insiders say, Digicel, largely unknown outside the Caribbean and some Pacific islands, has shaken up a usually conservative industry.
“They have been a disruptive force,” said Roger Barlow, a Hong Kong-based telecommunications consultant who has worked in Asia for more than 25 years. “Some of the big guys tend to look down their noses at them but they shouldn’t because they’re becoming a credible player.”
Myanmar this month short-listed 12 consortia for two licences it plans to grant foreign operators in late June. The government wants to expand mobile penetration from less than 4 percent to up to 80 percent by 2015-16.
While Digicel is up against behemoths such as Vodafone, China Mobile Ltd and Telenor ASA, several other big players failed to make the list – among them South Korea’s SK Telecom Co Ltd and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Holding SAE.