Monday, August 25, 2014

High Speed Internet Comes to Myanmar

About a month back, I was considering plopping down the $200 installation charge to get medium speed internet into my home here in Yangon, Myanmar. For the last six months of living here, I'd have to say that the most annoying thing about living here has been the unreliable, slow as molasses, worse-than-dial-up internet service I've had to endure by using the gov't owned Myanmar Post and Telephone 3G mobile net. It's been cheap.  About a dollar an hour of use, but it's speed has been so dependent on usage, that the only times it has operated at usable speeds for me was before 8 AM and after midnight.

So, I've uploaded lots of videos in the last six months. I've posted a lot of blogs since I've been online in Myanmar.  All of that stuff came from uploading at work (were I got DL speeds as high as 100 KBps), at the internet cafe or at home by setting my puter to do its thing, going to bed, and hoping it worked when I woke up the next day.

This morning, on my day off, I made my first video in several weeks for the Seasons of the Ukulele.  I trudged off to my favorite internet cafe to upload the results around noon.  When I got there, I found the place packed. Every terminal was in use. Most everyone was playing World of Warcraft; the rest were on Facebook.  I just wanted to upload the video I'd brought with me on my laptop.  I went to the unoccupied plug-your-own-puter station, plugged in and began my upload to YouTube. My video was 50 megabytes.

My speed at the internet cafe depends entirely on how many other users are there. It was packed.  When I clicked upload, YouTube told me my video would take 300 minutes to upload.  Five hours. 18000 seconds.  So my upload speed was 3 kilobytes per second.  Worse than home.  For you old timer internet users, remember back in the 90's when they talked about 4800, 9600, 26000 and 52000 kbaud modems?  Here I was in 2014 looking at a 3000 baud upload speed.

Then I remembered something I heard in the office yesterday.

See, there here in the month of August, there was a SIM card revolution in Yangon.  Up until recently, you only had once choice of mobile data provider here in the country of Myanmar: the gov't owned Myanmar Post and Telephone (MPT) bureau. My MPT SIM card on my smartphone has been how I've been talking to you all for these near six months now. It's been slow, but kinda cheap, and at the very least, it worked.

A few weeks ago, as a result of the continuing opening up of the economy of Myanmar from its socialist past, for the very first time, a private company was allowed to sell a SIM card to compete with MPT.  MPT sold their cards for $120 (the world average for a SIM card is something between one dollar and free). When Ooredoo, a local telecom company started offering SIM cards for $1.55 this month, they had mobs at their doorsteps, snapping them up as soon as they could.

The best thing was that Ooredoo was saying they'd give DL speeds as fast as 1 MBps, 1000 kpbs, or to use the 90's terminology, 100000 baud. Thirty times faster than what MPT has been giving me. After the lines died down, I bought one.

Immediate disappointment. The network didn't work anywhere.  I couldn't get data other than a trickle. Phone calls didn't even work.  Totally unreliable crappy service! I switched back to my MPT SIM card; at least they gave me crappy service I could rely on.

What I heard in the office the other day was that come the 24th of August, the
Ooredoo SIM cards would be totally different.  The initial release of this new product was a pre-launch.  The high speed internet network wouldn't come online until the 24th.

At the internet cafe, faced with this 5 hour upload time for a 50 MB video, I switched out the SIMs again on my phone (I got a dual SIM phone) and checked my data coming from Ooredoo.  BOOM BOOM BOOM. Facebook. My e-mail. News and Weather.  All of them loaded instantaneously. HOLY SHIT!  It's here!  IT'S FINALLY HERE!  High speed internet has come to Myanmar!

I immediately unplugged, payed the 40 cents for my one hour usage at the cafe and skipped home high on the prospect of finally enjoying the internet as I have in the past from the privacy of my home (please keep your porn references to yourself).

Sure enough, I get home, turn on the wifi hotspot on my phone, go to and get results indicating 1.4 MBps DL speeds.  Damn.  This was at noon, peak usage time. 30 times faster than I had yesterday. I'll never have to go back to that internet cafe ever again.

You may take some things for granted on the internet.  For example, although I can upload a video (from the office, not at home) as a kinda destination thing that is the final hour or two of what took me a few hours to make, I haven't been able to actually watch a video since coming here.  Now, I can.

With this new low price for a SIM card and it's speed (for now here in Yangon; we'll see what happens when this rolls out nationwide), this launch marks the introduction of 60 million new users to the internet. Please welcome the country of Myanmar to the linked in nations of the world.

As a side note, I've heard that Myanmar had the second-worst internet connectivity in Asia.  Only North Korea was worse.  With this advancement, I'm thinking Cambodia and Laos, and maybe even Vietnam and Indonesia, are now jealous.

Oh, I suppose I should share the Seasons of the Ukulele video that prompted this whole revelation...


  1. Hope Your speed remains satisfactory! Your are looking good. Looks like the pain is under control.

  2. A few corrections: 1 baud = 1 bit/second. 3K Bytes/second = 24K bits/second = 24K baud. In units, B = Byte, b = bit, though occasionally people will mix these up. I'm not sure how to interpret "DL speeds as fast as 1 MBps". If the units follow the convention, 1 MBps = 8 Mbps = 8M baud. If not, 1 Mbps = 125KBps = 1M baud.

  3. Craig, internet speed is actually Mbps, meaning mega BITS per second. not megabytes


Discovering Northwest Myanmar 16: Kataung to Mandalay

I call them "Burmese Doughnuts". They've got another name, but essentially, it's fried bread. The three-week adventur...