Here are Google's Plans to Put Itself at the Core of Burma's Nascent Internet Infrastructure

The company sees itself as a new services provider for the country, where people use much of the blockaded software via proxy servers.
Burmese internet cafe banner 3489234.jpg
An internet cafe in Rangoon, Burma on September 16, 2011. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Google chairman Eric Schmidt speaks Friday in Rangoon. The company has big plans for Burma, and they're closely linked to the country's plans for mobile. Burma's President, Thein Sein, has set a goal of 80 percent mobile-phone penetration by 2015, from current rates of 9 percent. With internet penetration as low as 1 percent, and fixed-line telephony penetration in the single figures even in big cities, mobile networks will be the only way the vast majority of Burma's 50 million people can get online, and will serve as the main communications infrastructure for a modern information economy, including banking, media and civic services.

Sources at Google told Quartz about the following services that the company plans to launch over the next few months. (A spokesperson said the company had "nothing to announce at this time regarding product launches or future launches in Burma.") Google will launch a search engine portal with native Burmese-language support in the next few weeks. Some sharp-eyed users caught a glimpse of an early test version that went up a few weeks ago and posted it on Instagram (above).

Burmese-language support integration . Language support is at the core of pretty much everything Google does. Services such as the Android mobile operating system, Google Translate, Google Search and Google Drive are unusable in Burmese without it. The only way to get a Burmese-language Android phone is to jailbreak it, so it can work with a host of locally-built apps. Although HTC launched Burmese-language Android phones earlier this year, Google will put up its own language translation and font system based on Unicode, the international standard. Debates over Unicode have waged for years in Burma, where it is not popular, but Google has settled on it. Support for Search and Android will come first; other services will happen later.

Google Play... and Google Wallet? The Google Play store, the app store for Android phones, has been blocked in Burma because of international sanctions that restrict payments to the country. Instead, locals use pirate app stores, which work with their jailbroken phones. Google plans to open the Google Play store in the near future, and already the country's app developers report restrictions are coming down.

It could also conceivably integrate its electronic payments platform, Google wallet--along with Google Play--to create a networked banking system that could work around Burma banks, many of which are still blacklisted. Lastly, handset makers such as HTC (whose CEO is Burmese) are negotiating with the telecom companies about offering deals for the first phones available on the new networks.

Business services. Google Analytics, which gives website owners data on their traffic, is also blocked inside Burma. Google is looking to launch the service soon. With the various tools on Google, from document tools to website management, the company sees itself as a new services provider for the country, where people use much of the blockaded software via proxy servers that disguise where they are getting online from, or else use pirated versions.

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Sam Petulla is a writer based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Wired, The American Prospect, The Nieman Journalism Lab, and other publications.

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