“Asia now accounts for 90% of Telenor’s customers, almost 50% of revenue and 50% of the profit, so Telenor is now half an Asian company,” said Sigve Brekke Executive VP of Telenor and head of Asia operations.
Telenor first moved into Asia in Bangladesh in 1996 in what Brekke termed a test project. Malaysia soon followed in 1999, Thailand in 2000, then Pakistan in 2005, India in 2008 and most recently Myanmar last year.
“I remember back in 2000, everyone was in Asia - BT, Deutsche Telecom, France Telecom, the Americans - Verizon and AT&T too. Today only Telenor is left with the only exception [being] Vodafone in India. Only Telenor has as Asian platform,” he said, speaking to a small group of journalists from Telenor Asia’s office in Bangkok.
Brekke said that back in 1997, few people believed that mobile would be a mass-market in Bangladesh. Last year, Telenor surpassed 50 million customers in Bangladesh, now the biggest in the whole Telenor group.
Today, the focus is on two different markets - one which still enjoys a high growth rate, giving connectivity to those who have never had a phone in Myanmar, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh while Malaysia and Thailand are markets now seeing intense data growth.
Myanmar in particular was a challenge with lack of infrastructure at all levels from manpower, lack of electricity to government agencies with no clue how to regulate construction and everything in between.
Today it has 3.4 million customers since launching last September, with 40% of them using data on a daily basis.
Brekke said that today Telenor Myanmar covers around 25-30% of the population. The company is working with three tower companies and is going to great lengths to train its partners on health and safety laws and to avoid child labour.
Telenor Myanmar has yet to go into the conflict areas held by rebels in Myanmar but it has established liaison officers and is communicating with local government and with military regimes.
“Hopefully we are able to build up relationships so entrance to this area is possible. We hope we are being seen as a part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he noted.