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Many of Ooredoo’s newly released SIM cards are ending up on the black market, with some shops selling them for up to three times the sanctioned price.
On 2 August, mobile and telecommunications firm Ooredoo launched their services in Burma – one of the world’s least connected countries.
Ooredoo SIM cards are now available to buy for 1,500 kyat (US$1.50) each as part of a trial period until the company’s official commercial launch on 15 August.
In the run-up to last week’s launch, local stores were bombarded with customers eager to nab a cheap SIM. Until now, customers have had to pay more than $200 to get connected.
But in the rush to buy cheaper SIMs, the black market has flourished. Customers have reported that even official Ooredoo dealers are hiking up the price of the cards.
“We went to about five different stores to buy SIM cards,” said one customer. “About four of them charged higher prices, saying they came with handsets or because the phone number is auspicious.”
Official distributors found to be selling SIM cards at black market prices could face legal action.
Thein Tun Aung from Myanmar Post and Telecommunication, the state-run telecoms provider, said that while these stores are breaking their contracts, SIM cards ending up on the black market would be inevitable.
“The distributors are not supposed to sell the SIM cards at a higher price – they were previously given a directive and this is also in their contract agreements. But the black market always exists,” he said.
Myint Zaw, Ooredoo Myanmar’s recently-appointed national sales director, said they would be dealing with black market sellers.
“We are planning to hold a meeting with [the dealers] since we have already instructed them that the SIM cards should not be sold for any more than 1,500 kyat.”
CEO of Ooredoo Myanmar, Ross Cormack, said there are 6,500 Ooredoo dealers in Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw, and customers should not have to pay more than the official price.
“We’ve got so many SIMs in the market that they will be sold for 1,500 kyats. So just make sure that when you go to the dealers you say, ‘that is what I’m going to pay’. If they don’t sell it to you then go to the next store dealer,” he said.
During the trial period, promotional benefits also included 900 minutes of free calls, free SMSs among Ooredoo phone users, and 20MB internet usage.
Cormack said Ooredoo’s voice and 3G Internet services will initially be available in Burma’s three main cities of Rangoon, Mandalay and the capital, Naypyidaw.
The network will cover 25 million of Burma’s approximately 60 million people by the end of the year and 97 percent of the population within five years, he said.
Ooredoo’s sole rival in Burma, Telenor, will launch its voice and data services in September in the three largest cities, and aims to reach 90 percent of the population within five years, spokeswoman Hanne Knudsen told Reuters.