YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar granted licenses Thursday to Norway's Telenor and Ooredoo of Qatar to set up the country's first foreign-owned mobile phone networks.
Currently less than 6 million of country's 60 million people have mobile phones, one of the lowest connectivity rates in the world. Hoping to spur economic growth, the government is trying to push penetration rates to 80 percent by 2016.
The licenses were awarded despite an eleventh hour push by lawmakers to delay a decision until a new telecommunications law is passed.
Of the more than 90 companies that submitted bids, 11 were short-listed.
Myanmar, located in the heart of one of the fastest growing regions in the world, became one of the most isolated and poorest nations during its half-century of iron-clad military rule.
After taking control of a quasi-civilian government in 2011, former general Thein Sein started implementing promised political and economic reforms.
The communications industry, long-neglected by the country's military rulers, is in need of a complete overhaul. That's in part because the original network was intended for only a tiny number of subscribers, mostly the rich. Up until a few years ago, the cost of SIM cards could reach $2,000.
Ooredoo was formerly known as Qatar Telecom.