By Catherine Trautwein | Thursday, 06 August 2015
Intense monsoon rains driven by Cyclone Komen, which have killed 69 people and displaced more than 260,000, have also disrupted network operations provided by the country’s top three telecommunications operators.
The flooding – the worst some residents say they have seen in decades – has damaged equipment and in some cases completely submerged tower sites, Ooredoo, Telenor and Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) said this week.
Telenor Myanmar said on August 3 that around 30 to 35 sites were inaccessible out of more than 2500 – meaning 1.2 percent of its sites were in trouble.
The company is facing challenges with sites that have been fully submerged and others that have run out of fuel, with ways to access them disrupted by the flooding, according to the company’s head of communications Joachim Rajaram.
“We all know how bad the situation is and it looks like it’s getting worse,” Mr Rajaram said. “[Our main priority] is that the network remains available as far as possible so that [users] can reach out to loved ones, but that’s becoming increasingly challenging.”
Ooredoo Myanmar said on August 5 that a total of 50 sites in Yangon, Ayeyarwady, Magwe and Bago regions, and Mon, Sagaing and Kachin states had been impacted.
“All are partially affected but only five in Sagaing Region have been completely impacted,” said Ma Thiri Kyar Nyo, Ooredoo Myanmar’s public and community relations senior manager.
Ooredoo’s CEO Ross Cormack told The Myanmar Times in an interview last week the company had about 2500 base stations in Myanmar, putting the current percentage affected at around 2pc.
Meanwhile, state-owned incumbent MPT is reporting no towers down – but said on August 5 that equipment had been damaged, perhaps by a transmission line cut by water or a landslide.
“But we are fixing all of it now,” said MPT business partner KDDI Summit Global Myanmar (KSGM) director Yoshiaki Benino, adding that staff are working around the clock. “Our first priority is to maintain the network and provide the service wherever [it is needed] in Myanmar,” he said.
MPT engineer U Ye Lin Ko said on August 4 the company had closed two towers in Kalay township, but that there was no damage and they were backed up.
At the end of July, Ooredoo visited Sagaing Region and Kachin State to deliver K11.2 million (US$9000) worth of donations. “We are supporting communities in relief efforts and will be supporting in reconstruction as well,” Ma Thiri Kyar Nyo said.
Mr Rajaram said on August 3 that Telenor is working toward relief efforts with organisations in affected areas and is providing immediate aid to those in evacuation centres, mostly in Sagaing and Magwe – as well as working on a longer-term recovery program.
When asked about the flood’s impact on Ooredoo’s rollout, Ma Thiri Kyar Nyo said the firm had learned a lot about how to deal with the disaster from its launch last year, during the monsoon season. “We have faced challenges like this, though of course not as severe as this time,” she said.
Ooredoo and MPT said that the firms had taken steps toward alerting customers about the flooding through SMS messages. Mr Benino said the state-owned telco sent a warning message on August 4 to areas that haven’t yet been hit by flooding, but could be. Those with 2G service could receive the text, he added.
U Thein Hote, general manager at the commercial department of MPT, said that “MPT is sharing information about the weather conditions to key locations by SMS, according to updates from the Ministry of Information.”
Ma Thiri Kyar Nyo said Ooredoo is also talking to the Ministry of Information through the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Post and Telecommunications Department and, on their instructions, began deploying SMS alerts on August 4.
Additional reporting by Aung Kyaw Nyunt and Clare Hammond