The recent opening up of the country presents an opportunity for technology leap-frogging, even as the burgeoning IT sector is increasingly looking for investments and expertise from foreign companies

THERE is little doubt that we are entering the golden era of the information age where innovation is continuing to disrupt a number of industries. At the same time, it gives rise to tremendous opportunities for home-grown businesses. As our technology businesses look further afield, one may be inclined to look at bigger markets with similar characteristics. However, developed markets such as the US, EU, Japan and South Korea are not necessarily easy nuts to crack, with their own sets of entry barriers and potentially a more crowded field of competitors.

Closer to home, as our technology businesses look for growth markets, there is one market that is often overlooked – Myanmar.

It would appear counter-intuitive to most as Myanmar is still associated with a reclusive regime plagued by draconian censorship laws and infrastructure bottlenecks.

Visitors in the past faced a country struggling under years of military rule where SIM cards can run into thousands of dollars with Internet access severely limited.

This is no longer the case. Travellers of late now find the country in a very different state after the previous government opened up the telecommunications sector to two foreign telco operators, Telenor and Ooredoo.

Spanking new retail malls and imported cars now line the streets, bringing the ills of urban traffic to the commercial capital of Yangon. With a population of 54 million, of which over 70 per cent is under the age of 40, the potential of Myanmar is tremendous.

The entry of new telecommunications operators has sparked fierce competition, bringing down the prices for voice and mobile data. These days, it is not uncommon to see youths in Yangon flaunting their latest smartphones which can cost a few months of an average worker’s salary.

Social media has truly caught on in Myanmar with Facebook, Line, Viber and Instagram among the big names that are enjoying popularity with users in Myanmar. The next question on investors’ mind is naturally, how to monetise all that potential.

For a first-time visitor to Yangon, the city looks like any other major city in South-east Asia – and one may be tempted to ask what is so different about Myanmar that merits a second look for technology businesses.

For one thing, due to years of isolation, the recent opening up of the country presents an opportunity for technology leap-frogging. Take the man in the street for example, the smartphone may represent his first and only device connecting to the Internet and the vast amount of information out there. Many would not have previously come across a tablet, let alone a desktop computer or laptop.

It also means that the market is ripe for experimenting, and the sizeable population of youths in the country can be fast learners and quick to take to new technologies. The burgeoning information technology (IT) sector is increasingly looking for investments and expertise from foreign companies.

Many will need seed funding or angel financing to commercialise their offerings. The window is closing on them as more foreign technology companies look to unearth this hidden gem of a market.

Even with e-commerce at its infancy in Myanmar, we are already seeing strong interest from some global players who are keen on a slice of this growing pie, particularly as logistics and infrastructure improve over time.

Entrepreneurs working in the Myanmar market, especially the technology sector, are often buoyed by a lack of regulation given that most of the existing laws – such as the Myanmar Telegraph Act – were drafted during the pre-Internet era.

However, that is often a dangerous assumption, as Myanmar does have a number of laws that can apply to the technology sector, including laws on electronic transactions and telecommunications. It is also a myth that laws that were drafted for the offline brick-andmortar world cannot be applied to the online space.

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15 Nov, 2017 Consult-Myanmar