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Govt calls for shared mobile towers

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Mobile-phone antennas dominate parts of the Kingdom’s skyline, including that of Street 178 (above) close to Phnom Penh’s riverside.

Telecoms Minister So Khun says measure would cut costs, but private sector remains concerned

We do not want to see too many antennas dotted along roads in the future.

MINISTER of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun called Thursday for Cambodia’s nine mobile-phone companies to share infrastructure, a measure that has already raised concerns within the private sector as to how exactly the requirement would be implemented following the future passage of a telecommunications law.

Speaking in Phnom Penh at a conference on the issue that included private-sector representatives, So Khun said the initiative would avoid duplication of infrastructure, thereby reducing the sector’s expenses and its potential impact on the Kingdom’s skyline.

“We do not want to see too many antennas dotted along roads in the future,” he said.

The government has given Tower Master Cambodia Co Ltd a 35-year licence to build shared mobile infrastructure across the country. The company is 80 percent owned by an unnamed Malaysian firm, with the remaining 20 percent taken by Ung Veasna, the president of the new firm.

“We hope that the participation and sharing of experiences in using these joint antennas will help boost growth of the economy and improve the country’s telecommunications service quality,” Ung Veasna said at Thursday’s meeting.

The first stage of the process would see the company invest US$20 million to build 100 joint antennas across the Kingdom.

In a bid to raise capacity from the current roughly 2.3 million mobile-phone users to 5.3 million, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) plans to build a total of 4,500 antennas, according to documents presented Thursday.

How this plan will be achieved remains hugely controversial within the mobile-phone sector, given that some companies have operated in the Kingdom for years and spent tens of millions of dollars on infrastructure to gain a competitive advantage, whereas others have entered only recently.

A draft of a proposed telecoms law states in Article 50(b) that “a licensee shall share the facilities with other licensees”, a clause that has raised concern in some firms in the sector.

In its recommendations to the ministry in response to the draft, the private sector said at the end of September that it agreed that sharing infrastructure was beneficial in reducing costs and environmental impact, but that, within Cambodia, market forces had not been given sufficient time to work.

“Mandatory facilities sharing will reduce the incentive on operators to build such infrastructure,” said the recommendations, which were refined before submission to the ministry.

“This may result in less than the optimal number of towers being constructed such that when the operators commence infilling their networks to improve coverage and provide better service, they are unable to do so as all tower capacity has been filled.”

The nine-page feedback document adds: “This will result in a delay in improvements to the network while additional towers are built.”

Mobitel, the country’s first mobile-phone operator and largest by market share, this year announced a $350 million three-year rural expansion programme after the signing of a $100 million loan secured through the International Finance Corporation.

Viettel, the Vietnamese military-run operator under the brand name Metphone, confirmed similarly ambitious plans to extend its infrastructure at the end of last month.

Managing Director Nguyen Duy Tho said the firm would activate an additional 3,000 base receiver stations by the end of this month as it targets coverage of nearly 95 percent of Cambodia’s population.

Neither Mobitel nor Viettel were available for comment on the new MPTC recommendations Thursday.

Smart Mobile supported the initiative in principal, said spokesman Rattana Um, adding that the Cyprus-based firm was awaiting further direction from the ministry, but expressing some concern about how infrastructure-sharing would be implemented in practice.

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