Digicel-led consortium promises $9 billion investment in Burma phone network

Mobile operator says it will employ more than 7,000 people if bid is successful

Denis O’Brien,  Digicel chairman: the Digicel consortium has committed to launching its fourth-generation mobile phone network across rural and urban Burma on December 1st this year, in time for the biennial Southeast Asian Games.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Denis O’Brien, Digicel chairman: the Digicel consortium has committed to launching its fourth-generation mobile phone network across rural and urban Burma on December 1st this year, in time for the biennial Southeast Asian Games. Photograph: Alan Betson

 


The Digicel consortium will invest almost $9 billion (€6.9 billion) in a mobile phone network in Burma if its bid for one of the two highly sought-after licences in the country is successful.

The consortium has submitted its tender application for the licence, promising to employ more than 7,000 people in the country by the end of the first year and invest $6.6 billion directly in the country.

The Digicel consortium has committed to launching its fourth-generation mobile phone network across rural and urban Burma on December 1st this year, in time for the biennial Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games).


Coverage plans
It has also told the government of the country, which is also known as Myanmar, that its network will reach 52 per cent of the population by the end of this year and achieve coverage of 96 per cent by 2016.

The rollout will involve 7,000 km of fibre optic cable, the provision of 23,000 wi-fi hotspots and the world’s largest single mobile deployment of solar power, with 7,277 solar sites.

The consortium comprises the Denis O’Brien-controlled Digicel, George Soros’s Quantum Strategic Partners and YSH Finance, a joint venture that includes the involvement of Serge Pun, one of the most successful businessmen in Burma. YSH Finance is 80 per cent owned by Yoma Strategic Holdings, of which Mr Pun is executive chairman.

Mr O’Brien, who founded Digicel, described the submission of the tender application as “truly an historic day” for the company, which is using the slogan “Myanmar’s Bigger, Better Network”.

Mobile penetration in Burma is below 10 per cent among its population of 64 million.


Sports sponsorship
Digicel has been active in the country since 2009 in preparation for the licence auction. It already employs almost 900 people there, with a further 3,500 people “ready to be hired”, and is the title sponsor of the Myanmar Football Federation and Myanmar Special Olympics Federation.

The telecoms company already operates in 31 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia Pacific, with total investment to date exceeding $4.5 billion worldwide.

The government plans to announce the two winning bids on June 27th, with the other shortlisted companies including Qatar Telecom, France Telecom-Orange, Telenor and Viettel Group.