BBC news on mobile phones in Burma

The BBC World Service has become the first international media organisation in Burma (Myanmar) to deliver news bulletins on the mobile platform. An agreement between BBC World Service and Burma’s leading mobile aggregator, Blue Ocean Operating Management, the country’s 5 million mobile-phone users can now receive BBC Burmese audio news bulletins twice a day.

The BBC Burmese audio bulletins will be updated at 8am and 6.30pm local time every day via automatic feed. In addition, there will be special bulletins for breaking news. To listen on demand, subscribers can call 01-2399600.

Although a country of almost fifty million people, it’s thought that less than 10% of the population own mobile phones, and internet access generally is still rare making Burma one  of Asia’s least connected markets. However, the market is not set to remain untapped and the number of mobile subscribers will likely mushroom over the next four years as on June 27 the Burmese government will auction two mobile operator licences amongst a dozen or so bidders narrowed down from an original list of around twenty. The bidding will proceed without a Vodafone tender who, having partnered with China Mobile withdrew their bid at the end of May, The bidders include a joint venture between George Soros and Denis O’Brien

Burmese authorities are hoping the mobile market will grow to around 30 million subscribers by 2016, with a new infrastructure that reaches 80% of the population.  An ambitious plan in a country where mobile will be the first telephone connection for most people, and the country is starting with a sparse infrastructure – the estimates are that $50 billion of investment is required to facilitate the telecoms plans. It will no doubt be a profitable market – but the winning bidders will need the financial capacity to commit to the market for the longer term, with half of the population living in rural areas – which are more costly to connect with potentially lower returns for the mobile operator.

Couple this with the fact that smart-phones will be the mobile device of choice as the new-found desire for freedom of expression becomes the cultural norm, but in a country where the average annual income, although increasing, is still well below $1,000 means that mobile operators will need to be inventive in how they get new subscribers to sign up to packages with subsidised smartphones. Money lenders and accessible credit, (a problem that Thailand experienced during its mobile phone growth) to fund phones could have undesirable societal impacts so expect the mobile operators to provide modern technology, but with longer term and skinnier plans than in more developed markets.

Indu Shekhar Sinha, Head of Business Development Asia Pacific for the World Service said the BBC had also agreed with Blue Ocean that the launch of audio bulletins will be followed by the launch of a BBC Burmese news SMS, providing users with short text news updates.

Currently, BBC Burmese has a weekly audience of over 8 million listeners in Burma, reaching 22.9 per cent of the country’s population. Independent surveys also show that BBC Burmese has established itself as a trusted international broadcaster in Burma as the nation’s public develop an appetite for news and connectivity.

“The BBC continues to keep its audiences in Burma informed about regional and international events, via radio, online on, and increasingly via Facebook. This exciting development means these audiences will have access to our impartial and independent news content on the go. With the growing number of mobile-phone users in Burma, this is a great way for us to keep connected with our audiences and further expand our outreach in the country.”

— Tin Htar Swe, Editor of BBC Burmese and BBC World Service South Asia Hub

External Links & References

  1. BBC Burmese : twice daily Podcasts
  2. Telecoms in Burma : WIkipedia
  3. Blue Ocean : Burma
  4. New mobile phone licence close to being granted in Burma
  5. McKinsey: Myanmar’s moment: Unique opportunities, major challenges

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