The wait may be over for Lebanon’s M1 Group, which had offered at least six months ago to buy Telenor’s Myanmar unit but had been forced to hang on while the government searched for a local buyer.
In the event it looks like M1 Group will partner with a Myanmar firm, allowing Telenor to leave the country. Telenor said in July it was selling its operations in Myanmar to M1 for $105 million, though it’s not clear whether this is still the sum involved.
Reuters cites sources who say that the new venture will be called Atom. However, Reuters also reports a Telenor spokesperson as saying that it is waiting for a response to its application for regulatory approval of the sale.
Military leaders late last year rejected plans for a sale solely to M1. Thus what appears to be the approved buyer is a partnership between M1 Group and Myanmar's Shwe Byain Phyu Group, whose interests include gem mining and petrol stations. It has been reported that Shwe Byain Phyu Group will be the majority shareholder of the former Telenor operation.
Telenor’s exit has come as little surprise. The new rulers of Myanmar have put pressure on a number of telecoms companies to install surveillance technology, an order Telenor clearly felt it was unable to comply with. That said, according to Reuters, Telenor has said its handover to a new buyer would include all assets, including call data records, in accordance with licence obligations.
So what happens now? There are concerns that the new owners of the former Telenor Myanmar might not be as uncomfortable about supporting the junta's plans to increase surveillance of the population as Telenor was. Shwe Byain Phyu is said to have existing links to the Myanmar military, not least through an indirect stake, via its chairman, in operator Mytel, which is part-owned by a military-linked company.
It is also not clear how the other operators in the country will respond. However, they include state-backed MPT as well as Mytel. The fourth operator is Qatar's Ooredoo.