It is quite fascinating to follow Myanmar’s rise as a tech, edtech and thus startup destination in general these days given that the reign of the military junta only ended in 2011. As Myanmar is now slowly opening itself to new influences, the first telecommunications companies entered the country just about two and a half years ago.
Sure, all in all we should be careful in making assumptions too quickly as the country is still in the very early stages of its modern development. Nevertheless, there are a number of indicators that confirm how the country might leapfrog some of the stages developing countries usually go through when it comes to technology.
An Untapped Market
The Asian Development Bank estimates a population of 61 million with an average annual GDR (PPP) of $1,711 per capita. With a very young population, 47% are under the age of 24, Myanmar is poised to adopt technology very quickly if this technology and the infrastructure are available and affordable.
Unlike following the traditional path over using a desktop computer or laptop over to owning a feature phone, and then smartphone or tablet like in many African countries or in India for instance, Myanmar’s population is pushing for a mobile first strategy.
Although today only about 10% of the population own a mobile phone (and even fewer a tablet) and SIMs as well as data usage is expensive, there is fierce competition among telcos from around the world to establish themselves in the country, which will drive down prices eventually.
So far Qatari company Ooredoo and Norwegian company Telenor were successful with bids for licenses some 14 months ago. Ooredoo has established a 3G network in the country.
Half of Myanmar’s mobile internet users came online in the last year. 49% of internet users only use a mobile phone to access the web.
When it comes to smartphones Chinese-built Android phones that are priced around $50 are the weapon of choice. One the one hand, this is little of a surprise when we think about affordability, on the other hand $50 is not cheap when the average purchasing power doesn’t exceed $1,700.
Maybe even more surprising is that people are willing to spend around $200 for a SIM (down from more than $2,000 on the blackmarket just some years ago).
Viber looks like an early winner in the messaging app space having a market share of 79% compared with Facebook Messenger which comes in second with 27% market share.
That said, half of the respondents in the survey say they use Facebook, and 31% use YouTube.
Education and EdTech
In Myanmar a huge gap exists between highly educated and qualified people, often returning back home after having worked abroad, and the vast majority of people who often lack employability skills, admittedly something we in the West also have only started to work on more intensely in the past 12 to 18 months. English language skills, or the lack of, are another challenge.
But, again, the good news is that people are willing to invest in their education and skills, and this is something we see in all the developing countries.
What we see improve in the general field of tech will also translate into edtech.
The International Development Association (IDA) finances an $80 million credit for the country, another $20 million come from the Government of Australia through the Myanmar Partnership Multi-Donor Trust Fund. This new funding will improve and expand the Myanmar Government’s School Grants Program and Student Stipends Program with the objective to provide a quality education to all citizens.
Another player in Myanmar’s education sector is Japan which just recently signed a memorandum of understanding on establishing Asia Specialty Education Center (ASEC), aiming at promoting cooperation in technological training between Myanmar and Japan. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) wants to help improve Myanmar’s education status through an investment of $24.5 million.
A first example for educational app development is and an iPad app called Phew that helps young learners write the characters of the Burmese language. Revo Tech, the company behind Phew, plans to release more educational apps in the future.
Of course, iPad users are a rare species in Myanmar when you compare with my statements above. On the other hand, the Google Play Store for Android apps is not (yet) available.
Nevertheless this can be seen as a first step toward broader adoption which will happen eventually through increased competition and therefore decreasing cost of being connected and owning a device.
Below you find a list of articles, giving you further insight in the market.
- Students in Myanmar to Benefit from World Bank-Supported Project | World Bank
- Myanmar, Japan to establish Asia specialty education center | globalpost
- Myanmar poised to have ‘60 million citizens come online almost overnight’ | Tech in Asia
- Myanmar’s new mobile internet users embrace Android smartphones, pick Viber over Facebook | Tech in Asia
- Geeks in frontier markets: Myanmar is a sexy place to be in right now | e27
- Startup aims at Myanmar’s youngest of early adopters with educational iPad app | Tech in Asia