Mobile phone application Viber has announced that the use of its communications service in Burma has soared in recent months and reached 5 million users in July.
The figure offers an indication of just how rapidly mobile internet usage is growing in the country, which was cut off from modern communications technology under the former military regime for many years.
Viber held a press event in Rangoon on Thursday to mark its rising popularity in Burma.
“Myanmar is a very important market to us,” Talmon Marco, CEO of Viber, said in a press release. “The growth rate is exceptional and we are thrilled that Myanmar mobile users have joined the Viber family. We are very happy to be in Myanmar today to share this milestone with members of the media.”
According to Viber, users of its services jumped from about 2 million users in February to 5 million users in July.
Research into the mobile phone market in Burma by OnDevice had already revealed that Viber had become the most popular chat app, with 79 percent of all Burmese phone users communicating through Viber.
Viber said it would seek to build on its popularity by tailoring it to the Burmese market.
“We believe the key to capturing the hearts and minds of Viber users… is by offering unique localized content that reflects the values and culture of its people,” said Michael Shmilov, Viber’s Head of Product. “We are committed to delivering a great experience for Myanmar users.”
Viber, a global company owned by Japanese Internet Giant Rakuten, began in 2010 and provides free messaging and phone calls via internet on smartphone, desktop and tablet to more than 370 million users in 193 countries.
Nay Phone Latt, the executive director of the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization told The Irrawaddy, “Viber is popular because of its low cost to make calls or text message as we only need to pay for the Internet charge.”
It has been a popular chat application along with Wechat, Tango, Whatsup, or Skype, he said, adding, “It is a convenient application to get in touch with my family and friends when I was outside of Burma.”
Zar Chi, a Viber user, said she preferred the app because “It is faster to send pictures via Viber on mobile phone than other apps” and it is easier to communicate with the family members who live far away from home.
Due to international sanctions imposed on the former military regime, Burma was cut off from modern communications technology for many years and relied on state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT), which provided costly and ineffective internet and mobile phone services.
The number of smartphone and internet users in Burma has been rapidly increasing in recent years, rising from about 5 percent in 2012 to more than 8 percent, or about 5 million people, in May of this year, MPT has said.
Last year, after a hotly-contested bidding process, the government awarded Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo licenses to become the first private firms to offer mobile phone services in Burma alongside MPT.
On Wednesday, mobile phone shops in several cities said they began selling a limited number of Ooredoo SIM cards.