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ATOM to spend big on Myanmar 5G launch

ATOM, the operator formerly known as Telenor, has unveiled plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Myanmar in the coming years, one of its goals being to launch the market’s first 5G service.

ATOM, or Advancing Telecommunications of Myanmar, to give it its full title, officially launched in Myanmar on Wednesday. The company came into being as a result of Telenor’s decision to pull out of the market amidst security issues stemming from last year’s military coup. It brokered a deal to sell the business to Lebanon-based investor M1 Group, but the authorities required that the operator be held in local hands, so M1 brought in conglomerate Shwe Byain Phyu as its new majority owner. The sale from Telenor closed in late March, but all parties are working together to ensure continuity of service.

While Telenor clearly felt it was unable to continue operating in Myanmar, ATOM’s launch comes with a heavy note of optimism.

The operator said it intends to spend US$330 million over a three-year period to future-proof its network, transform business, create jobs and nurture local talent. It also shared its ambition to be the first to commercially launch 5G in Myanmar, although understandably it has not attached a specific timeframe to that goal. It will happen “in coming years,” it said.

“ATOM is founded on the belief that everyone should have access to essential telecommunications services especially during challenging times,” said Muhammad Ziaullah Siddiqui, Chief Executive Officer of ATOM. “Our vision is to propel Myanmar with advanced connectivity so people can experience life beyond better,” he said. “Myanmar’s digitalisation has been astonishing thus far but more is yet to come!”

Indeed. The global telecoms industry watched with interest as Mynamar, one of the world’s last untapped telecoms opportunities, auctioned off mobile operating licences in 2013 and welcomed Telenor and Zain to the market the following year. Launching mobile services was not plain sailing for either company, due to having to learn the ropes in an unfamiliar market, but they got there and the future looked bright. The private providers were later joined by a pair of state-owned operators and mobile phone ownership and usage boomed in Myanmar.

As we now know, it was to be relatively short-lived, with the coup of early 2021 bringing restrictions on usage and operating difficulties for the telcos, to put it mildly. ATOM will face different challenges to those encountered by Telenor the best part of a decade ago, but, as Siddiqui pointed out, there will certainly be challenges.

However, as you would expect, at launch the telco is focusing on the positives. In addition to talking up its various voice and data packages, and its app store, ATOM is highlighting customer care, noting that it is operating free call centres 24/7, and forthcoming deals, rewards, and new services. It has also pledged to spend 3 billion kyat, or around US$1.6 million, between now and end-2023 on CSR projects in areas including healthcare, education, and humanitarian aid for underserved communities.

But while that’s all good news for the people of Myanmar, the big test of ATOM’s success in the market will be its ability – or indeed otherwise – to launch 5G.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer Ahmad Abdallah is making noise about the emerging digital technologies that will be facilitated by 5G, naming machine learning and the metaverse in particular.

“Digitally shared universes are no longer a futurist’s dream. Myanmar should not have to wait too long to experience and enjoy the benefits of 5G,” he said.

Let’s hope he’s right.

 

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