Myanmar is experiencing one of the world’s fastest rollouts of mobile phones. What are the political, social, and economic effects of the smartphone revolution in Myanmar?

Changing the Political Scene

The explosive growth of mobile phones, especially smart phones, in Myanmar over the past several years has helped shape the political scene. Myanmar’s new parliamentary republic governs a fractured population with high ethnic tensions. Its minority Muslim community has for decades been the target of violence. The proliferation of smartphones is spreading misinformation, radical propaganda, and hate-speech that can exacerbate tensions and endanger minority populations. After decades of military rule, Myanmar’s republic government must confront challenges like protecting online free speech while regulating hate speech and incitement of violence.

A New Economy

Myanmar’s expanding mobile phone market provides opportunity for economic growth. Demand for mobile phones and new pro-business policies have driven foreign telecommunications companies, phone accessory stores, and technical service companies to enter Myanmar. Mobile banking and mobile financial services may be the next trend in its digital revolution. Even public institutions may be able to develop mobile apps to better reach citizens in rural areas.

Poor infrastructure in Myanmar presents roadblocks to taking full advantage of mobile phones. Limited electricity access and underdeveloped internet infrastructure constrains the quality and bandwidth of mobile internet capabilities. There are ways to mitigate these problems. In India, for instance, Vodafone created a distributed network of mini stores that sell equipment, assist with connectivity, and provide technical support within a 18-32km radius.

Telecommunications companies will continue to invest in Myanmar’s growing market. They must collaborate with in-country partners to work toward innovative solutions to provide mobile phone and internet technologies across Myanmar.

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About the Author
Nicole is an alumna of the Global Communication M.A. program at George Washington University, with concentrations in Information Technology in International Affairs and Middle East Studies. She holds a B.A. in Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law from the University of Virginia. Her interests include public diplomacy, technology policy, interfaith initiatives, and the media.