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Myanmar to announce telecom licence winners

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Some of the world's biggest phone giants will find out Thursday which two have won telecoms licences in Myanmar, an official said Thursday, ahead of an expected boom for the sector as the country embarks on a reform drive.

The tender was launched in the hope of quickly increasing mobile coverage across the country where less than 10 percent of the population having access to a telephone.

The results of the process will be closely watched as a bellwether of economic reforms aimed at spurring rapid foreign investment in the former junta-ruled nation.

Consortiums on the shortlist include Orange, KDDI, Singtel, Telenor and Digicel Group -- a link-up between Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien, one of Myanmar's richest men Serge Pun and financier George Soros.

"We will let companies know the result first before we release it to the press," Set Aung, deputy minister of National Planning and Economic Development and chairman of the committee overseeing the telecoms tender, told AFP.

He also scotched speculation that the bid results would be delayed because of a move by lower house lawmakers on Wednesday to postpone the process.

"We are not dealing with small companies but dealing with the best of the best companies in the world... our dignity can be harmed if we respond late," he added.

A dozen foreign consortiums were initially short-listed to bid for two licences to build, own and operate a nationwide network for an initial 15-year term.

But a bid by Vodafone and China Mobile was withdrawn.

Winners of the tender must launch their services within nine months of the licence being granted and install a network to cover a quarter of the country within a year, and three-quarters within five years.

One bidder has estimated the required spending to develop a Myanmar network at about $2 billion.

Myanmar lags its neighbours in mobile coverage and is desperate to quickly narrow the gap with affordable coverage to help spur development.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130627/myanmar-announce-telecom-licence-winners