Cambodia’s telecom sector continues to grow, with the new industry regulator now playing a role
Cambodia’s efforts to expand and upgrade its telecom infrastructure have been bearing fruit. This is despite its status as a least developed country and remaining one of the poorer countries in Southeast Asia. In this country of around 15 million people, there was very little infrastructure remaining from before the tumultuous Khmer Rouge days. As a result, Cambodia largely by-passed rebuilding the fixed-line market and quickly launched into alternative technologies, jump-starting its telecommunications infrastructure with digital technology. Not surprisingly, mobile services completely overwhelmed the market, at least initially. The roll-out of a variety of different network technologies has been more the pattern of late.
Faced with growing concerns about the country’s regulatory regime, the government finally moved on the long awaited establishment of an autonomous industry regulator. The Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications (MPTC) officially launched the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) in September 2012. The move effectively transferred the regulatory role of the MPTC to the TRC, making the new authority responsible for the key areas of spectrum allocation and the regulation of pricing, among others. The regulator also had the authority to deal with a range of disputes including technical, operations and network usage matters. By 2014 the TRC was already playing a key role in the local telecom industry; there remained a significant range of regulatory and market issues still to be addressed, however.
In recent years there have been between eight and ten mobile operators vigorously competing with each other in a crowded market segment that continued to grow at a healthy annual rate, despite all the obstacles. Coming into 2014, there were over 20 million mobile subscribers; on the basis of reported statistics the market experienced a ‘correction’ in the first half of 2013. (It is noted that the available statistics are somewhat inconsistent, but, where appropriate, reasonable estimates have been made in the report.) The mobile market was continuing to grow following the correction, although probably at a more modest rate.
The mobile market had started to go through some form of rationalisation by 2011. By that stage there were nine licensed operators. The number of operators dropped to eight in that year when the merger of two of the operators was approved by the authorities. Then, after a great deal of activity on this front in 2012, two major changes took place: the closure of financially struggling Mfone finally occurred in early 2013; and in March 2013 Hello Axiata merged with Smart/Latelz to form a refreshed Smart Mobile. Importantly, the new, combined Smart emerged as the second largest of mobile operators, with over five million customers, not far behind the market leader Viettel’s Metfone. By early 2014 there were six mobile operators, but three of these only had small subscriber numbers. In fact, the three major operators were claiming around 95% of the total subscriber base.
The limited fixed-line telephony growth that had come about in Cambodia earlier on had mainly been through investment under foreign assistance plans, focusing on the capital Phnom Penh. Subsequently, geographical coverage did not increase significantly for a decade or more. The number of fixed-line services remained relatively static for some years at around 50,000. By 2010, however, the numbers were starting to head upwards. The arrival of Viettel in the market place in 2009 proved to be the trigger for a surge in growth. By end-2012 there were a reported 720,000 fixed-line subscribers, representing a healthy teledensity of 5% and growing. But 2013 saw a sharp drop in fixed-line subscriber numbers. (Again, there remained some uncertainty about the accuracy of the available statistics.)
The expansion of the internet in Cambodia has been largely overshadowed by the strong focus on mobile services. Internet take-up rates remained disconcertingly low for many years, with the country claiming one of the lowest internet penetrations in the region. The limited fixed-line infrastructure had been a major inhibiting factor in the roll-out of both dial-up and DSL internet services. The market started to shift in 2007 when wireless broadband services began to appear, offering an effective alternative fixed access service to DSL. By 2014, however, fixed broadband internet penetration remained extremely low. By contrast, mobile broadband was expanding rapidly at the same time boosting online activity generally; as with telephony, mobile services were again clearly ‘filling the gap.’
- Mobile penetration had reached 134% by end-2013;
- The crowded mobile market had started to see some rationalisation, the number of mobile operators falling from nine in 2011 to just three major players by 2014;
- Mfone was declared bankrupt and forced to exit the market;
- Hello Axiata and Smart Mobile merged to form a refreshed Smart Mobile, presenting a serious challenger to Viettel’s Metfone;
- Smart Axiata launched Cambodia’s first 4G/LTE network in early 2014;
- After a decade of growth, the fixed line numbers dropped sharply in 2013;
- By early 2014 a teledensity of just 3% was reported;
- The internet segment had also been struggling for some time;
- The rapid expansion of mobile broadband access, however, breathed life into this market segment;
- There were around 1.5 million mobile broadband subscribers by early 2014;
- The government launched the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) in 2012;
- A draft National Broadband Policy had been prepared by the MPTC;
- A proposed submarine cable is to connect Cambodia and Malaysia.
Cambodia - key telecom parameters – 2011 - 2014
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|Total No. of fixed broadband subscribers|
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This report provides an overview of the trends and developments in the telecommunications markets in Cambodia. Subjects covered include:
- Key statistics;
- Market and industry overviews;
- Major operators (mobile and fixed);
- Regulatory environment;
- Mobile market;
- Internet market;
- Broadband internet (fixed and mobile);
- Telecom market scenario forecasts for subscribers (mobile, internet, fixed) for 2015 and 2020.
Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.