A&O advises as Telenor picks up first of two Myanmar telecoms licences

Allen & Overy (A&O) has advised Norwegian telecom company Telenor in winning one of the first two licences for foreign companies to provide telecommunications services in Myanmar.

A&O’s Bangkok managing partner Simon Makinson led the team that advised Telenor in its bid for the license. The firm’s Bangkok office has also worked for Thailand’s major mobile phone provider Digital Total Access Communication (DTAC), of which Telenor is a majority shareholder.

A&O is a long-standing advisor to the Norwegian telecoms giant. In 2005, the A&O telecoms team advised Telenor on its €1bn (£690m) acquisition of Vodafone Sweden, and more recently, the firm acted for the client when it acquired a major stake in Indian mobile network operator Uninor for $1.2bn (£780m).

The Myanmar government announced the international winners of a telecommunications license tender on 27 June. Apart from Telenor, Qatar Telecom, which has recently rebranded to Ooredoo, is the other winner. The two companies will receive formal approval from the relevant Myanmar authorities in the coming months.

Ooredoos’ legal advice for the bid was largely done by the company’s in-house team, headed by Asia general counsel Scott Weenink, who is based in Singapore.

Weenink joined the company in 2008 and previously worked as senior counsel at Telecom New Zealand and as an associate in legacy Norton Rose. The company previous worked with firms such as Clifford Chance, Simmons & Simmons and Trowers & Hamlins in various projects. It is understood that the company engaged external counsel to assist but there was very little assistance required for the bid stage. However, Weenink expects greater assistance from external counsel will be required as the company rolls out a new network in the country.

Upon winning the license, Telenor has recently appointed Telenor Myanmar’s executive management team, headed by CEO Petter Furberg, previously CFO of DTAC. One of the executive members is chief corporate affairs officer Gunnar Bertelsen, who has worked with Telenor for 15 years, covering government relations, regulatory and legal aspects both at the group level and in operating companies.

According to press reports, Telenor and Qatar Telecom defeated nine other short-listed companies in the tender, including a consortia led by France Telecom, Singapore Telecommunications and India’s Bharti Airtel. Vodafone Group and China Mobile were also reportedly among the finalists shortlisted by Myanmar, but both withdrew from the tender on grounds that the opportunity didn’t meet their internal investment criteria. 

Apart from A&O, a number of other international and regional firms have been involved in the bidding process to various degrees. Firms that have confirmed to have played a role include Baker & McKenzie, Herbert Smith Freehills, Norton Rose Fulbright, Olswang and Malaysian firm ZICOLaw. However, due to client confidentiality, all the firms declined to name their clients.

“There will be significant follow-on work. Not least as the Parliament has voted to suspend the process and so next steps are unclear. The winning bidders will now need to sort out network roll-out and get get to grips with the unclear regulatory framework,” said Rob Bratby, the managing partner of Olswang’s Singapore office.

HSF’s Singapore corporate partner Veronica O’Shea and telecoms consultant Mark Robinson are part of the firm’s teams involved in the tender process. The firm noted that a number of offices in its network acted for a number of bidders.

They commented: “The opening up of the telecoms sector is a major step forward for Myanmar, not least given that mobile penetration is currently below 10% and there is a direct correlation between telecoms infrastructure and GDP.

“Levels of interest in Myanmar have been high across the sectors and we anticipate further demand for our telecoms, energy, corporate, finance, funds, employment and intellectual property teams in Singapore and other parts of the network and for our lawyer based in Myanmar.”

“It’s a step forward for Myanmar as the nation opens up to foreign investment. The tender process was a real, transparent, and international process,” said a partner at an international firm who has also advised a short-listed bidder.

For an overview of Myanmar’s legal market, see The Lawyer’s recent Myanmar special report here