Myanmar, where telephones are in the hands of just 7 per cent of the population, will end the monopoly of its state-owned telecommunications company in June, offering two licences to outsiders.
President Thein Sein vows in a post on his official website dated April 1 to extend phones, both fixed-line and mobile, to 50 per cent of the population by 2014-15, and 75 to 80 per cent by 2015-16.
The country recently moved to provide more affordable SIM cards. Four years ago, a SIM card cost about US$4,000 - and that did not include the phone. This has come down to about US$250.
Thein Sein has promised to provide abundant low-cost SIM cards, with 350,000 per month to go on sale across the nation. He did not state a price, but they are expected to go for US$20.
Applicants to break Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications' monopoly had to file their tenders by Thursday last week. China Mobile and Britain's Vodafone Group are among those to have shown interest. They have applied jointly for a licence to build, own and operate public telecoms networks and services.
The two successful bidders for telecoms licences will be granted initial 15-year terms in June.
Myanmar set tough criteria for the licences, limiting the field to big international players. They include stipulating that the bidders must have a minimum of four million mobile subscribers in any one market, and annual gross revenue of at least US$400 million at the end of last year.
The Myanmese government also requires the new operator to provide reasonably low tariffs and prices, to support its goal of increasing the penetration of phone services.