Uber has launched its service in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma, over a month after going public with its expansion plan.
With a population of 50 million people andrapidly increasing internet adoption,Myanmar is seen by many tech firms as a market with much growth potential. Grab, Ubers chief rival in Southeast Asia, entered the countrys capital Yangon in March with a beta launch, but Ubers arrival in the city is notable because it comes with the backing of the national government. Principally, thats becausethe service will only work with licensed drivers, Reuters reports, using the same model as Grab.
Theres plenty of logic behind that change of approach.Even after operating in Asia for four years, Ubers service sits in a grey area thatsometimes sees governments clamp downon unlicensed drivers. In Myanmar, authorities aretaking its arrival as an opportunity to advance its digitizationsince it doesnt offer an immediate threat to existing taxis.
I personally welcome Uber,Phyo Min Thein, chief minister of the Yangon Region, said in a statement. I believe Uber will help Myanmar becoming an ideal market in Southeast Asia by providing safety and improved services to our people and international tourists.
U.S. ambassador Scot Marciel added that Uber can improve urban mobility and strengthen relations betweenthe two countries.
The Myanmar launches marks the 57th country where the U.S. ride-sharing service is operational, but this market may just be its most intriguing. The internet was barely accessible in Myanmar before the countrys democratization in 2011, while cell phones and SIM cards were priced beyond almost all residents. Yet today, Myanmarhas over 50 million registered SIM cards and an estimated five million-plus Facebook users.
The country has leapfrogged straight to the world of smartphones and data,David Madden, who runsPhandeeyar,a community project in Yangon thatsbacked byOmidyar Network, told TechCrunch recently. Its only a matter of time before other international tech companies recognize the opportunity.
Its unclear when, or indeed whether, Uber will up the anteby introducing services like UberX, which enable anyone with a car to become a driver. Any such move would test its relationship with the government, which looks to be the pillar for this expansion.