Mobile market controlled by state-owned operators while foreign-backed firms find it difficult to survive — Bamboo firewall unlikely to be amended soon — Competitive environment expected to remain tight.
Stuttgart, Germany - Manila, Philippines — Vietnam's mobile market represents a challenging landscape for potential investors as the privatisation of the telecoms sector is still waiting to happen and the market is still controlled by state-owned companies.
Although some recent initiatives to fast-track privatisation efforts are an encouraging sign for potential foreign investors, nevertheless, the Vietnamese government is believed to continue to be cautious about the privatisation of the telecom sector due to two crucial reasons. First of all, state-owned enterprises remain one of the core tax sources: therefore, there is a certain resistance to introduce liberalisation policies that could damage the position of these companies in their respective markets. Furthermore, the government's policy of Internet censorship – otherwise known as the “Bamboo firewall” – is unlikely to be amended soon and represents a concrete obstacle for attracting foreign investments in general. Recently, the government even heightened further restrictions on Internet usage - limiting exchange of "personal information" on blogs and social websites.
With the increasing trend towards content and data traffic monetisation stemming from the growing demand for mobile Internet services, the Internet censorship could significantly impact data traffic and growth potential for this segment.
Aside from these aspects, the current market conditions in Vietnam represent an additional challenge for potential investors. With a penetration rate already well above the 100% level, we expect that mobile growth will progressively taper off in the coming five years. The high penetration rate in the country will dictate operators to focus increasingly on subscriber retention, which will be intensified by the launch of mobile number portability in 2017.
We expect the competition to remain tight especially among the three largest mobile operators — Viettel, MobiFone and Vinaphone — and the State's effort to sell MobiFone stake will make competition even tougher, with Orange reportedly showing interest. Viettel is expected to increasingly expand its international footprint: already active in Cambodia, Laos, Haiti, Mozambique and Timor, the carrier has secured telecom licenses in Peru and Cameroon and is also looking to other countries — Argentina, Burkina Faso, Cuba, Kenya, Myanmar, Swaziland, Tanzania and Venezuela. Vinaphone's parent VNPT is expected to become a holding company to improve operational efficiency, following the on-going spin-off of MobiFone from the group. Market shares of smaller players such as Vietnamobile and Gmobile will likely remain less significant unless they progressively differentiate their services and market positioning.
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