Cambodian mobile phone companies will extend their reach into rural areas. [ABC]
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Robert Carmichael, Phnom Penh
ABC Radio Australia
Cambodia has just 15 million people and is one of the poorest countries in the region - and yet it has nine mobile phone operators.
Five have launched in the last 15 months, and two more are preparing to open.
More than half the world's population has a mobile phone - there are 3.3 billion of the instruments according to latest figures.
But in Cambodia, says Thomas Hundt - chief executive of Smart, the latest entrant - market penetration is low, at 25 percent.
In other words, no more than one Cambodian in four owns a mobile phone and that makes telecommunication phone companies very excited.
So Khun, Minister for Posts and Telecommunications since 1992, told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program the most important change in telecoms in his time is liberalisation, allowing private companies to enter the mobile telecoms market.
All the competitors agree on one thing, however: the market cannot sustain so many companies.
Syed Azmeer, chief marketing officer of Hello, says: "Basically it is a war of attrition. People are giving away free minutes and free SIM cards and there comes a certain point where they can't do that any more.
"Some of the not-so-serious players - once they amass a certain number of subscribers - will be up for sale."
MobiTel claims 60 percent of the market,and its parent company last month signed a loan for $US 100 million, which will be used to expand its coverage in rural areas.
The company's chief operating officer, Kay Lot, thinks there is more urban growth to come, "but it won't last. There are only so many target markets that are still out there in the urban. So the longer-term strategy is to go out more into the rural areas."
To that end, MobiTel is erecting hundreds of new base stations each year.
Its more established competitors are also focusing their efforts outside the cities as the push to capture subscribers moves into the green Cambodian countryside.