Telenor on Monday provided further details on its upcoming launch in Myanmar, including some of the challenges it faces as it prepares to deploy a network covering around 55 million people.
The Norwegian incumbent formally received its operating licence for Myanmar at the end of January and plans to launch 2G and 3G services within eight months. It will spend $500 million on a network of 8,000 base stations featuring equipment supplied by Huawei and Ericsson to provide coverage to 90% of Myanmar's 60 million-strong population within five years.
However, it is not entirely clear how Myanmar's population is distributed.
"The population is 60 million but there is no precise number," said Petter Furberg, CEO of Telenor Myanmar, who explained that the government is in the process of carrying out a census. "[Current] population maps are very weak," he said.
Once Telenor knows where deploy a base station, it needs to physically get to the location, which represents a challenge too, depending on the time of year. According to Furberg, as many as half the country's roads outside urban centres are inaccessible during monsoon season, which starts around May and lasts until around October.
Electricity is a problem as well, with just 25% of the population having access to a reliable power supply, which means Telenor will rely heavily on diesel back-up and solar power for its base stations, Furberg said.
"There has been underinvestment over many years in infrastructure," he noted.
In addition to an ongoing peace process between the Myanmar government and armed ethnic groups, the country also has a corruption problem, ranking 157th out of 177 countries listed in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
Perhaps the biggest challenge though, is an administrative one.
"Our network rollout...is dependent upon local government to process building permits [for base stations] at a high rate," said Furberg.
There is no up-to-date land registry, and authorities simply "lack the capability" to grant permission to build, he said, adding that this is the challenge most likely to delay Telenor's network deployment.
Nevertheless, Telenor group CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas said "it is an [operating] environment that we are used to".