* Myanmar: 45 Million Mobile Phones and the $19 3G Smartphone

True smartphone on sale in Yangon - Credit: Susan Cunningham

Only in Myanmar: the $19 3G smartphone

The phone in the above photo is a shiny new $19.44 smartphone. When I saw this for sale in small corner shop on Anawrahta and Pansodan streets in Yangon a few weeks ago, the 23,000 kyat (at 1,183 kyat/US$1) price included one SIM card too. As you can see, it’s 3G capable and has slots for two SIM cards.

Later I saw the same Thai brand, complete with Thai packaging, among the familiar and strange brands of phones being sold on sidewalk tables, like the ones in the photo below. Since bargaining comes with the territory and these phones aren’t being sold in a shop with overhead costs, do they cost even less than $19? Such a low price for a new phone must also affect the pricing of secondhand smartphones, regardless of brand.

Myanmar (Burma) has three mobile carriers: the government’s MPT and the two private carriers: Qatar’s Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor. Two years ago this month, Ooredoo introduced its service with 1,500 kyat SIM cards; MPT had dropped its Sim price from the equivalent of $300 to 1,500 kyat some months before that, but the private company turned on the advertising and promotion firehose and Telenor followed suit a few months later. A decade ago, SIM cards were in the $1,500 range. Nowadays, some Myanmar people have two phones, each with a different carrier, because coverage varies in different parts of the country. And since a SIM card costs less than $1.50, why not?

A few days before I came across the True phone, I had interviewed Jes Pedersen of the local tech community organization, Phandeeyar, for Digital News Asia. The astounding growth in the past two years of both mobile users and smartphone users was an inevitable topic. He said that today there are 45 million active SIM subscriptions, up from only 3 million or 4 million two years ago: “And sixty to eighty percent of those are smartphones.”

How is that possible when the average wage is $3 a day? Bear in mind that the recently released statistics from the 2014 census … MORE