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Mobile numbers don’t add up

How many mobile phone users are there in Cambodia?
According to Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun this week there are now some 9.8 million subscribers, a figure that is publicly supported by the majority of the Kingdom’s eight operators. After all, they provided the numbers.

But privately, every mobile phone executive in Cambodia knows there is nowhere near this level of penetration.

If Cambodia does indeed have 9.8 million mobile users, or 66 percent penetration, then the Kingdom would currently rank above China (64 percent) and India (60 percent).

There is no doubt Cambodia’s level of mobile penetration is growing but the reality is clearly a lot more sober than the government and private sector would lead us to believe.

Based on reported active user numbers supplied by each mobile phone company, the official calculation becomes hugely distorted as operators continue to try to convince everyone including themselves they have an elevated level of user growth and market share.

Calculations are usually based on there being one activity on any given SIM in a given timeframe, and usually this is defined as a paid-for rather than a free promotional call.

The problem is that some companies set this time frame at one month and others at up to three months, meaning the definition of an active mobile user in Cambodia is often anything but.

In reality, of course, Cambodians are simply switching out multiple SIMs to get the best deals.

Last year, Vimplecom Ltd reported significantly different numbers for the second quarter to its shareholders,  when compared to those submitted to the government by its Cambodian operation Beeline.

When asked yesterday: How many mobile users are there in Cambodia? Beeline, qb, Viettel and Smart Mobile all failed to respond.

Based on the definition of one revenue-generating event on any one SIM in the last 30 days, Hello Chief Executive Officer Simon Perkins estimated there are currently between 4.5 million and 5 million “active users” in Cambodia.

But this definition hardly represents mobile penetration in terms of the total number of people actually using a mobile phone in Cambodia today.

In reality, an average mobile user makes multiple calls on a daily basis.

A calculation that can capture this truth – however difficult – would represent the real level of mobile penetration in Cambodia.

In the meantime, Vietnamese-run operator Viettel claimed it had some 2.84 million active users in November making it number one in Cambodia.

When you cut through the PR, this figure is probably closer to the total number

of mobile phone users in the whole of the country on all networks.

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