For over 130 years, state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) was the household name in Myanmar’s telco industry. Operating under a government-enforced monopoly, it had a wide berth to charge astronomical prices for its services.
“In 1994, I paid US$5,000 (now S$6,845) for a SIM card and US$600 for a monthly subscription for my line. Every outgoing call cost me US$350 a minute,” recalls Alvin Law, A.MGR Co.’s founder and managing director, who relocated to Myanmar that same year to scratch his entrepreneurial itch.
In a climate rocked by political upheaval, civil unrest and frequent power cuts, technological progress hardly had room to take root, let alone flourish. “When I first came here, there were many copy centres. People were bringing confidential documents there just to make duplicates,” says Law, who left a successful sales career at Canon Singapore to start a business distributing Canon copier machines in Myanmar about two decades ago.
Now, the 62-year-old Singaporean businessman is no longer a one-man show. Together with a team of 406 employees, his company A.MGR supplies cutting-edge information and communications technologies to the country’s leading telecom operators and financial institutions. In accordance with regulatory requirements, A.MGR operates in Myanmar through its local partner Myanmar Golden Rock.
Law not only helped to shape the architecture of the modern office in Myanmar but also fuelled the six-year telecommunications boom that followed when the populous country of 54 million opened the sector to foreign competition in 2014.
According to GSMA Intelligence, mobile phone penetration in the country soared from 13 per cent in 2013 to 124 per cent in 2019, registering a total of 67 million mobile connections.
Indeed, as the incumbent operator, MPT might possess the lion’s share of the market, but it faced stiff competition from new entrants such as Telenor Norway and Ooredoo Qatar. To signal their arrival, they started selling SIM cards at a remarkably low price of US$1.65.
To establish long-term growth beyond engaging in price wars, MPT had to know what consumers wanted. Capturing consumer data, along with the ability to make sense of it, were key to its survival.
“IN 1994, I PAID US$5,000 FOR A SIM CARD AND US$600 FOR A MONTHLY SUBSCRIPTION FOR MY LINE. EVERY OUTGOING CALL COST ME US$350 A MINUTE.”
Stifled by a lack of digital know-how, MPT partnered with Japanese telcos KDDI and Sumitomo Corporations to modernise. To that end, Law’s company was appointed in 2018 to build a business intelligence platform for the telco giant.
Over the next 15 months, Law’s team worked on replacing the company’s outdated IT system with a modern hyper-converged infrastructure solution. Before A.MGR’s solution was implemented, MPT had to wait on vendors to submit multiple reports, resulting in information lag and reporting inaccuracies. By comparison, the new system provides the company with the latest data, reducing go-to-market (GMT) deployment time from 45 days to seven. MPT also started rolling out targeted marketing campaigns instead of blasting blanket promotions to its database. In one 10-day campaign, the company issued free data to subscribers who played the popular game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It yielded 41 per cent growth in data usage and 17 per cent increase in subscribers.
The ability to analyse data, voice or SMS usage across townships has also allowed the company to make smarter decisions when investing in costly infrastructure spanning a county 941 times bigger than Singapore.
Besides helping MPT maintain its position as a leading telco operator in the country, the US$1.44 million project also created new revenue opportunities. “Data is the new money,” says Law. The telco giant’s newfound data trove can potentially be shared with financial institutions keen on assessing a borrower’s credit worthiness. To date, Myanmar has no legislature pertaining to data privacy.
Even as Myanmar continues to embrace digital transformation, Law is already thinking ahead, especially since he has observed multiple companies in Singapore falling prey to cybersecurity breaches. “Technological obsolescence happens so quickly. We need to be able keep up to ensure that we remain relevant.”
Text Denise Kok Photography Life Photography