Though options are available for as little as K30,000 some mobile users are dropping a lot more money on phones – investing up to K600,000 in luxurious models. Keypad phones, usually the bedrock of a new mobile market, have been pushed so far out of the arena that one shop gives them out as free gifts.
The Myanmar telecoms market has undergone a drastic transformation. Over the last few years, millions of people have been able to access mobile services for the first time, due to precipitous falls in the price of SIM cards and smartphones.
What used to cost users thousands of dollars could conceivably cost far less than K100,000 today, as the market offers inexpensive phones and SIMs have a set price of K1500.
Estimates from Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) put around 80 to 90 percent of its users on smartphones. As for its competitors, nearly six out of every 10 users on Telenor’s network is using a smartphone, according to the company. The country’s third operator Ooredoo did not provide comment by press time.
In the past, purchasing decisions were driven by factors such as camera quality. Now, users want connectivity, said 21 mobile shop worker U Zin Win. “People choose smartphones by looking at specifications such as RAM, memory capacity and CPU quality.”
Not everyone can afford to buy an iPhone in Myanmar, which can cost more than half the country’s projected GDP per capita for the 2015-16 year, according to the International Monetary Fund. But U Zin Win said on average, customers are buying smartphones for about K200,000. And some are paying even more.
“The Myanmar market has K30,000 smartphones on offer, but people want using phones to be easy,” he said. “The cheaper phones don’t have good touch-screens and can’t store a lot of data compared with K200,000 handsets.”
“Now mobile phone users are going online, using apps,” he said.
U Win Pyay Sone of Mr Fone mobile shop said customers’ first priority is cheap and easy connectivity, especially with the influx of users heading online to play games.
“People are buying middle-class Android smartphones,” he said, adding his shop is selling more Samsung and Huawei handsets than others as they cost about K200,000. “We are selling seven of these phones per day.”
Meanwhile, customers have rejected phones that hearken back to the early days of mobile. An A3 mobile shop worker said that keypad models are gifted to customers that buy smartphones – free of charge.
“Before, mobile phone users depended on keypad smartphones. Now they’re being given away,” he said. “Customers are choosing inexpensive smartphones that store a lot of data and allow for easy internet browsing.”
David Madden, founder of downtown tech and community centre Phandeeyar, said it wasn’t surprising that many customers went beyond buying the cheapest devices. “The rapid adoption of platforms like Viber and Facebook shows that Myanmar consumers understand mobiles aren’t just for making phone calls,” he said.
“You don’t have to be a tech guru to see that spending more money gets you a bigger screen or a fancier camera. It’s also true that in many places in the world smartphones have become a kind of status symbol. So, for some segments of the Myanmar market, a basic device is enough; but for others, they’ll stretch to get the best smartphone they can afford.”