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Mobile market still growing

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Top-up scratch cards for various mobile service providers on display at a street stall in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district yesterday.

Cambodian mobile operators added more than 1 million new subscribers between May and July, with Smart Mobile seeing the largest percentage increase for the period, according to Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications figures obtained by the Post.

Smart grew 40 percent growth over the three months, according to the ministry data, with subscribers climbing to 1.23 million from 880,000.

Smart chief executive officer Thomas Hundt attributed the jump to the operator’s network expansion and marketing.

“Our [third-generation] network is growing quickly but much of the growth is driven by a new [advertising] campaign,” he said yesterday, adding that the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications’ figures for Smart were wrong.

Smart saw more than 55 percent growth between May and July and nearly 9 percent growth during August, he claimed.

Increased marketing activity and more distribution accounted for the 19.5 percent growth for Hello, CEO Simon Perkins said yesterday.

About 230,000 subscribers joined Hello between May and July, drawing the operator’s total subscriber count to 1.41 million. Perkins called the recent figures a sign of “steady, consistent growth”.

Metfone, a subsidiary of Vietnam’s Viettel, added 460,000 subscribers for a gain of 8 percent during the three-month period. Metfone, by far the Kingdom’s largest operator, claimed 6.2 million subscribers
in July, up from 5.74 million in May. Subscriber numbers for Cambodian telecoms, however, are highly contested, with some experts putting actual figures at little more than half of the Kingdom’s 13.43 million reported users.

Marc Einstein, a Tokyo-based analyst at research and consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan, said Cambodian mobile subscribers should reach 7.6 million by the end of 2011, or 5.8 million fewer than reported in July.

About 35 percent of reported users are also predicted to be inactive in developing Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam, he said.

The prospect of selling out to other telecoms leads some operators to inflate their subscriber numbers, Einstein said. “The operators in Cambodia are struggling right now,” he said. “There will definitely be some more [mergers and acquisitions] in the Cambodian market.”

Recent “all you can eat” phone plans, which give subscribers unlimited on-network calls, drive competition in the market but not subscriber growth, Einstein said. Mobile device pricing and SIM card giveaways are some of the main drivers of subscriber growth, he said.

Hello earlier this year launched an unlimited on-network calling plan to criticism from competitors, who claimed the plan violated ministry rules on minimum pricing. However, CEO Perkins said the plans were no longer being offered as of August 31, and that his company’s growth was not driven by those plans.

Hello was not alone in launching an unlimited calling plan this year. Mfone, which reportedly lost 120,000 subscribers between May and July, launched its own unlimited voice plan last month. CEO Yap Wai Knee was not available for comment yesterday.

Mobitel, qb and Excel reported no growth in subscribers between May and July, according to ministry data. Beeline lost 30,000 subscribers during the same period. Officials at other Cambodian telecoms could not be reached for comment.

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