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Cisco opens in Myanmar as US tech firms eye fresh territory

USAID delegation grooming isolated state

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Networking giant Cisco looks set to be one of the first major Western tech firms to establish a presence in once-isolated Myanmar, after announcing two networking academies designed to train up locals for work in the country’s burgeoning IT sector.

The collaborative project with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will see the launch of two Cisco Networking Academies in which the vendor will supply networking kit and training for up to 15 university staff to support the program.

There are already 10,000 such academies in 165 countries worldwide.

"Cisco has a long track record of supporting the development of emerging economies through education, and the Cisco Networking Academy program will equip students in Burma with industry relevant skills for the 21st century workforce, as they transform their country and their communities,” said Sandy Walsh, regional director of Cisco’s Social Innovation Group, in a canned statement.

The news comes just a week after USAID organised a visit to Myanmar of a delegation of US tech firms including Cisco, Google, HP, Intel and Microsoft.

The focus of the trip was on the possibility of launching programs in the region designed to improve IT literacy among students, teachers and entrepreneurs, as well as improving and lowering the cost of internet access.

As the country slowly opens its doors to the international community after decades of isolation, tech firms like Cisco see a potential goldmine, not only in terms of the market opportunity for flogging goods and services there but also a potential low-cost manufacturing base.

In January the country announced that two telecoms licenses up for grabs would be open to foreign companies, while analyst IDC predicted 15 per cent growth in IT spending last year with the market reaching $268.45m (£172.9m) by 2016.

At the time, IDC’s director for Indochina said “strong soft skills and vocational training” were essential to helping the country realise its potential as a serious offshoring destination for manufacturing, so Cisco’s announcement should help in this area.

Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE are also eyeing the country, especially the huge potential for building telecoms infrastructure.

Forrester analyst Bryan Wang claimed that foreign tech investment in Myanmar is set to step up a notch this year.

“China has a lot of interests in Myanmar, but its scale in this space is still very small,” he told The Reg.

“Even though they’re facing strong play from Chinese IT vendors, my understanding is that many global folks are eyeing this as an entry to a country with greenfield opportunity.” ®

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