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Telcotech connects to new gateway with US

091223_07
Tuks-tuks pass Telcotech’s new Phnom Penh office Tuesday.

Broadband firm says connections will improve despite setbacks

CAMBODIAN broadband Internet wholesaler Telcotech indicated Tuesday that it has connected Cambodia to an undersea fibre-optic cable linking Southeast Asia to the United States that is expected to bring cheaper Internet access to the country.

However, the ambiguously worded statement from Telcotech Chief Executive Officer Ludovic Duval did not say when the connection to the Asia America Gateway (AAG) went live, or give details on what is expected to be a wholesale offering. The AAG was switched on by the consortium on November 10.

In an emailed statement, Duval said: “As the member of AAG consortium in Cambodia, Telcotech is able to provide local telecom operators with all connectivity and facility of AAG. In terms of telecommunication infrastructure, Cambodia now benefits from the same level of integration as its neighbouring countries.

“The availability of the service will benefit the whole Cambodian telecom industry by providing highly reliable links and by immediately increasing the available bandwidth to cater with fast growing demand from end-users.”

Cambodia does not have a direct landing point on the 20,000-kilometre system that connects Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Vietnam, Guam and Hawaii with the US West Coast.

It must instead negotiate for bandwidth access from other members of the consortium that built the system, meaning its “level of integration” is not the same as in neighbouring countries.

Industry insiders have labelled the missed opportunity for a direct landing point a “disaster” and have questioned that the new offering will provide cheaper bandwidth or enhanced quality.

A Telcotech engineer, who asked not to be named, said in September that the consortium guaranteed access through backhaul agreements with other members, but acknowledged the terms would have been more favourable under a direct connection. Price points were established by the consortium based on the size of each member’s investment.

Other consortium members include AiTi (Brunei Darussalam), AT&T (the US), CAT Telecom (Thailand), PLDT (Philippines), REACH (Hong Kong), StarHub (Singapore), Telekom Malaysia (Malaysia) and VNPT (Vietnam).

The network, which cost around US$550 million, uses Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing technologies to provide a total capacity of 1.92 terabits per second (Tbps).

Cambodia’s involvement in the consortium has long been shrouded in secrecy. Initial consortium member Pacific Communications was removed in February 2007 to be replaced by Telcotech in October the same year.

However, by the time Telcotech – which is owned by Cambodian tycoon Huot Vanthan – joined the consortium, the cable’s design had been finalised, minus a landing point in Cambodia, the Telcotech engineer said.

Why a landing point was not negotiated has never been revealed. A consortium spokesman said the reason for Pacific Communication’s removal from the group of firms was “privileged information”.

Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun said last month that it was removed because it was given the go-ahead to join the consortium by Telecom Cambodia, not by the government, and had violated Cambodian rules.

Pacific Communication was owned by Song Nimol, the wife of Telecom Cambodia then-director general Nhek Kosal Vithyea, also known as Victor, who was subsequently fired following corruption allegations involving revenues from an illegal international phone gateway.

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