For most people in Myanmar, the high price of a SIM card alone is enough to keep them out of the communications revolution that the rest of the world generally takes for granted.
In 2012 the total number of mobile phone users in Myanmar doubled from 1.5 million phone users in January to three million in December. This of course has meant the mobile phone market has exploded – and second-hand smartphones are capturing a lot of that market.
Brand new smartphones, even for the comparatively well-off, are unrealistic for most, costing upwards of US$600 even at the low end, depending on the brand and model. Therefore second-hand handsets, particularly from Singapore, are selling in growing numbers for significantly cheaper prices that are far more reasonable for many Burmese.
“On average we are selling 60-70 units a month since October last year. Before that our sales ranged from 40 units to 50 units a month”, Xenobia employee Ko Nay Linn Tun told The Myanmar Times.
“I think sales will increase even more when people soon will have to spend less on SIM cards which leaves them free to spend more on handsets”, he said.
At MobileIT, another handset retailer in Yangon, the owner Ko Zeya Hlaingsays said he sells 30 handsets a month. Of these, 15 are iPhones and the remaining 15 are assorted Samsung Androids.
As far as iPhones go, Ko Zeya Hlaing says the iPhone 4S is the most popular. A second-hand 4S in good condition sells for K400,000, while a second-hand iPhone4 is priced at K300,000-330,000. iPhone handset prices tend to have less price fluctuations than Samsung’s Android phones.
Ko Zeya Hlaing noted that, while there are good and bad points for both brands, the iPhone is more popular among users and retailers, despite the perception that Androids were more ‘user-friendly’.
“A year ago, a Samsung Galaxy Note II would set you back about K600,000, but is now available for K350,000.” he said, adding that the price of an iPhone 4S had dropped from K600,000 to K480,000-500,000 in the same period.
“The second-hand cell phone market will continue to grow in Myanmar because people would like to spend more on better handsets as they need to spend less on the SIM cards,” he told The Myanmar Times.
Ma Wut Yi, sales manager of IT and Mobile Sales in Yangon, also believes that handset sales depend on the price of SIM cards.
When the government reduced SIM card prices to K200,000 per unit last year, handset sales automatically jumped, she said.
“They bought handsets when they came to buy SIM cards. Handset sales depend on the SIM card price. When the government reduced the SIM cards to K200,000 per unit (from K500,00 in March 2012), hand set sales were up with most of the customers buying cheap brands worth about K30,000-40,000,” she told The Myanmar Times.
But earlier this year, sales dropped to just three units a day.
“The decline in sales were due to the news that the government would be selling SIM cards for less than K100,000,” she said.