Just a few years ago Myanmar was a country where it was impossible to get a mobile phone and the internet was prohibitively expensive. Today things are completely different. The country is now in the grip of a smartphone and app craze – leapfrogging past older generations of mobile phones, with increased connectivity making apps like Facebook and WhatsApp widely used and accessed.

Mobile phone stall on Merchant Road, downtown Yangon, Myanmar (Photo by Ramko Tanis)

In 2013, Myanmar opened up to the world, triggering the dramatic change towards connectivity. Before then, no telecommunications company existed, and now there are three telecommunication operators in Myanmar: Telenor, Ooredoo, and MPT.

Before the companies were launched in Myanmar a phone card in Myanmar costed around $1,500 USD. Afterward, with the increase number of telecommunication company entering Myanmar, the price has dropped down dramatically. Today, you can find sim card in Myanmar for just $1.50 USD.

“The way I first accessed the internet 5 years ago was through fiber optic, and it was very expensive and not working well” said Ye Yint Aung, a staff member at a local technology company in Myanmar. “But now, you have a lot of choices. There is fiber optic, wifi, and access through smartphone. It’s pretty cheap too. My smartphone data plan costs around 3 USD dollars per month”

Myanmar is a unique case study of a population that will never see broad use of a basic mobile phone before moving to smartphone.

With the recent opening of its economy to the world, Myanmar has seen an influx of modern and affordable telecommunications products and services. (Photo by Asian Development Bank)

With the number of smartphone users skyrocketing, businesses and organizations in Myanmar are seizing the opportunity by creating apps for different purposes, from entertainment to education and entrepreneurship.

Leaders have emerged in the technology for development ecosystem capitalizing on the smartphone trend. Phandeeyar is one Myanmar-based group running a number of projects taking advantage of the national changes including a digital rights and digital security program, an entrepreneurship program and a civic tech incubator and startup accelerator. Koe Koe Tech is another leader launching apps targeting users wanting to access information related to health care.

Rarely have we ever had a society jump from zero mobile phone use to mass smartphone adoption. It’s a prospect that is not only exciting to typical entrepreneurs, but also to organizations focused on social good. With less barriers to access comes more opportunities to test new health-tech ideas that might be slowed down elsewhere.

While it is still early days for the Myanmar technology scene, Yangon is already proving to be a hub of activity, and programs are moving at light speed to capitalize on the opportunities in both the commercial and public sector.

Sok Somphoas Phalyka is a Global Ambassador for InSTEDD. Phalyka is a B.A graduate majoring Media Management.With the passion in well-being and technology, she joined InSTEDD as a Global Ambassador in early March 2017.

Image credits – licensed under creative commons 2.0
Featured image: Remko Tanis Flickr, Mobile Phone Stand: Remko Tanis Flickr, Cell phone shop: Asian Development Bank Flickr