Wellington-based Oceanic Communications has taken giant strides into what is considered one of the world's last two bastions of mobile phone networks, Myanmar.
Oceanic is part of a successful bid by global communications giant Ooredoo for one of two mobile phone licences awarded to private companies by the Myanmar (formerly Burma) Government. Ooredoo is building the mobile network in Myanmar, where less than 10 per cent of the 65 million residents have mobile phones, and only 13 per cent have access to electricity.
Despite this, the Myanmar Government has set a target of 80 per cent mobile penetration in just three years, once the network is up and running in August.
Oceanic's role includes the supply of mobile handsets, sim cards, other accessories, and distribution, and it is responsible for the payment platforms.
Director Locky Mulholland said Oceanic played a similar role when it teamed with Digicel to roll out telecommunications across South Pacific nations.
"If you are in Papua New Guinea and you see a guy in the middle of the jungle selling a single cigarette, a can of coke and a top-up card - he's our guy. We get right down to that distribution level. That is what Oceanic does."
The sheer size of the Myanmar market will be a "game-changer" for Oceanic, which has had a presence in the country for the past three years.
"We currently employ around 330 people. We're in seven countries with a fairly hefty turnover on a daily basis . . . I don't want to talk figures but it [the Myanmar deal] would certainly almost double the size of our business overnight.
"Our staff count on roll-out would hit about 550 people. They will be locals who would be direct employees. The distribution level would be in the thousands with street vendors and people doing day-to-day micro-business."
In the first year Mulholland expects to flood the market with around 5 million mobiles.
Future growth is pegged to the expansion of the mobile network, which Ooredoo expects to cover 97 per cent of the population within five years.
"They'll hit the smartphone revolution as an entry level for them. Where we started with a brick, moved to flip-phone, then a feature phone, then to a smartphone . . . they will jump straight into 3G technology from day one.
"It is a badge of honour. They wear them proudly on a lanyard around their neck."
With so few locals having access to electricity, phones would come with wind-up rechargers or recharging solar panels.
Mulholland said the New Zealand Government had provided plenty of assistance so that Oceanic could join dairy giant Fonterra and professional services consultancy Beca Carter as Kiwi business success stories in Myanmar.
"We [New Zealand] took in a lot of Burmese refugees in the early days. We are just seen as neutral guys, I guess. It has been quite a breeze for us."
The other untouched bastion of the mobile world is North Korea, where dictator leader Kim Jong-Un is unlikely to expose to global communications any time soon.
The Ooredoo Group delivers mobile, fixed, broadband internet and corporate managed services across markets in the Middle East, North Africa and South-East Asia.
The company reported revenues of US$9.3 billion (NZ$10.98b) in 2013 and had a consolidated global customer base of more than 96 million.
- © Fairfax NZ News