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. Cambodia has 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.
The Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications (MPTC) officially launched the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) in 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. By 2015 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 early 2015 the Cambodian and Chinese authorities signed a cooperation agreement regarding issues on telecoms and information and communications technology (ICT). While in late 2015 Cambodia’s Council of Ministers approved a new draft telecommunications law, which is aimed at enhancing the regulation of the sector and improving service quality.
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. By the end of 2015, there were over 25 million mobile subscribers.
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 later that year 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, not far behind the market leader Viettel’s Metfone. By 2015 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 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 2015, 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.’
In early 2015 SEATEL Cambodia announced plans to invest a total of US$500 million in the rollout and operation of a 4G network in Cambodia over the next few years.
- Mobile penetration had reached 167% by end-2015;
- The number of mobile operators falling from nine in 2011 to just three major players by 2015;
- Hello Axiata and Smart Mobile merged to form a refreshed Smart Mobile, presenting a serious challenger to Viettel’s Metfone;
- Smart Axiata had expanded its 4G LTE network to all 25 provinces of the country.
- By 2015a teledensity of only 2.8% was reported;
- The internet segment had also been struggling for some time;
- The rapid expansion of mobile broadband access continues to breath life into this market segment;
- There were around 2.3 million mobile broadband subscribers by 2015;
- SEATEL Cambodia announced plans to invest a total of US$500 million in the rollout and operation of a 4G network
- Viettel acquired a 50 percent stake in Sotelco, parent company of Beeline Cambodia.
- Alcatel-Lucent and Chuan Wei signed an agreement to expand mobile broadband connectivity.
Cambodia - key telecom parameters – 2012 - 2015
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