* 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

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | August 10, 2016

The phone in the above photo is a shiny new $19.44 smartphone. When I saw this for sale in small shop on the corner of 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. 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 for sale 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?  Continue reading

* Omidyar grant jumpstarts for-profit accelerator in Myanmar

By Susan Cunningham
Digital News Asia | Aug 02, 2016

  • eBay founder’s US$2mil grant to Phandeeyar will also support social entrepreneurs
  • Myanmar SIM card subscriptions grew 10-fold in two years

A US$2-million grant from the Omidyar Network to Yangon tech community Phandeeyar will help support a for-profit accelerator programme to be launched in September.

After hearing pitches from short-listed candidates in mid-August, judges will select four to eight winning teams, according to Phandeeyar Accelerator director Jes Kaliebe Pedersen.

Each team will get US$25,000 in seed money, office space, and six months of coaching by some of Phandeeyar’s 30 mentors, who include executives and investors in Myanmar and abroad.
Continue reading

* Do Myanmar’s Rohingya Really Need Citizenship Now?

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com

The more I learn about the plight of Rohingya, the stateless people of northwestern Myanmar, the more I think that foreign diplomats and op-ed writers may be wrong to be pushing the citizenship plank now. Perhaps there are more urgent priorities.

I have been reading and thinking about this since I talked recently with Lilianne Fan, a research fellow with the Humanitarian Policy Group of Britain’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) think tank. She had just returned from her second visit to the four camps in Aceh State, Indonesia, which are sheltering nearly 2,000 Myanmar Rohingya and Bangladeshis that were rescued in late May from three boats abandoned by traffickers.

On one boat the 600-plus survivors had been adrift for more than two months and another 100 people had been killed in fighting among the passengers. She is a co-founder of the Geutanyue Foundation, an Aceh NGO that is among the many large and small organizations providing aid to the boat people. She has been visiting Myanmar, including Rakhine State, since the Cyclone Nargis disaster in 2008 … MORE

* Myanmar Digital Startup NEX Wins 2nd Round Funds From Blibros

Myanmar digital startup NEX has won second round funding of  US$150,000 from Singapore’s Blibros Group, the privately-held investment arm of Sweden’s Böcker family. Yes, this is the family of Magnus Böcker, CEO of the Singapore Exchange and former CEO of Nasdaq OMX Nordic. NEX got its initial angel investment of $50,000 last year from Singapore  investor Ned Phillips, formerly of  E*Trade and Chi-East.

I met NEX’s founder and CEO, Ye Myat Min, who’s all of 23, a few months ago when I was in Yangon. NEX had 15 employees then; now there’s 20.  The new investment will enable the company to build on Fyre, its Web-based software introduced in May  that enables small businesses to quickly set up an online storefront. One of the first customers was TAC, the country’s first authorized re-seller of Apple products.  ”Most small shops want an app, but they can’t afford to get their own. Instead, they can pay … MORE

 

* Burma’s Last Royals

The King in Exile: The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma by Sudah Shah (Harper Collins)

Reviewed by Susan Cunningham
Los Angeles Review of Books

MYANMAR’S LAST ROYAL FAMILY, summarily ousted by British colonizers more than 125 years ago, hasn’t been a sensitive subject since independence in 1948. But less than three years ago, The King in Exile by Sudha Shah might have run afoul of censors just for noting that Taw Phaya Galae, a grandson of the last Burmese royal couple and one of her sources, served a stint in prison after participating in the squelched 1988-1990 democracy movement.

It is one of many signs of change that an edition of Shah’s family biography, already available in English in Myanmar, will soon be published in Burmese.

4 Daughters of Myanmar's King Thibaw

The Final Four Burmese Princesses

For the past two years, Myanmar’s military government has assumed a gentler, less martial face as it bids to welcome tourists and Western investors. After nearly 20 years of house arrest, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Parliament in 2012 and ventured abroad to collect her 1991 Nobel Prize and other laurels. The strides the country has taken toward greater freedom of expression in the past two years have received less attention, but are also important.    MORE