CAMBODIA has dropped out of a $1.4 billion fiber optic
project whose completion early next year will propel the
telecommunications infrastructure of nine Asian countries
into the 21st century, government officials and industry
sources confirmed this week.
According to sources close to the project, several
reasons lay behind the decision to postpone Cambodian
participation including jittery investors spooked by last
year's military coup and the resulting dissolution of the
country's coalition government.
Cambodia has one of the lowest telephone densities in
the world, yet charges among the highest telephone and
Officials at the Ministry of Post and
Telecommunications said Cambodia was unable to afford its
share of the Sea-Me-We3 project which started earlier
Begun in 1994, Sea-Me-We3, an abbreviation for the
South East Asian, Middle Eastern and Western European
regions that it will link up, is considered one of the
most extensive and complex underwater fiber optic systems
in the world.
Cable laying operations to get Australia connected are
ongoing, while Indonesia and Taiwan are also expected to
be patched into the grid within the next 12 months.
When completed the Sea-Me-We3 will comprise a
40,000-kms global fiber optic link utilizing the latest
in technical innovation.
Managing Director of Siemens (Cambodia), Wolfgang
Kitz, described as a "big setback" Cambodia's
decision to postpone joining in the project.
Kitz said besides Sea-Me-We3, other investment
projects for Cambodia were being held up because of the
current deadlock in the formation of a new government.
However, Kitz said, despite missing out on Sea-Me-We3,
Cambodia would benefit from another fiber optic project
linking Thailand with Vietnam.
This project, worth some 30 million Deutsche marks and
funded by the German government, involves the laying of
fibre optic cable down the Mekong River.
"They've already done a couple of hundred
kilometers from the Thai border. It should be finished
before the end of 1999," he said.
Unlike major power generating projects, big
telecommunications projects were difficult to finance
without access to international funding, Kitz said.
The Asian leg of Sea-Me-We3 - called Segment 2 - will
cover 7,100 kms of main trunk underwater cable with
branch links to Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam,
Philippines, Brunei, Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.
It is the branch link to Cambodia that Phnom Penh has
decided to forgo. Tele-Danmark was contracted by French
communications giant Alcatel to lay more than 1,700 kms
of the project which will use $75 million worth of cable
manufactured at Alcatel Submarine Network's Port Botany
plant in Australia.
"[Sea-Me-We3] will provide a big increase in
communications possibilities between these countries
while linking them to mainline truck traffic to
Europe," said Thorsten Gregersen, project manager
for Tele-Danmark International.
Socialist Vietnam is one good example. Barely a decade
ago all outgoing overseas calls were routed through a
creaky exchange connection in Moscow. Now, state-owned
Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Corporation (VNPT)
has underwritten a $30m loan for building its leg of the
fiber optic project as part of its massive upgrade into
The Segment 2 extension follows an enthusiastic
response by major telecommunications providers buoyed by
the success of the project's first phase, which saw a
main fiber optic trunk originating in Germany and passing
through the Mediterranean into the Red Sea, Indian Ocean,
Malacca Straits and South China Sea off Singapore.
Segment 2 has been seemingly unaffected by Asia's
currency turmoil. Gregersen said the region is pressing
for more digital traffic and data circuits, while a big
growth in Internet use has also added pressure for a
Tel-Danmark expect Segment 2, which will unofficially
cost investor countries $250 million, to be completed by
late December and running by early 1999.
In a telephone interview from Copenhagen, Tele-Danmark
senior sales manager Ove Smidt said: "Most people
believe satellites are connecting the world. They are
not. The quality of fiber optics is much superior, and
you have so much more capacity in one system."