The country's largest cellular phone network, MobiTel, has been overwhelmed in recent
weeks by an unexpected increase in calls, and delays in installing new equipment.
The company saw a surge in new subscribers after prices were slashed earlier this
year, said director David Spriggs. That, combined with a higher number of phone calls,
had repeatedly pushed the company's network beyond capacity in December, particularly
in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
"The last couple of weeks we got a little ahead of our forecasts," said
Spriggs. "From the customer's point of view, there are numerous re-tries [required]
to make a call."
Part of the problem is that some of the equipment needed to increase capacity is
awaiting clearance from the government's Customs Office, said one MobiTel employee.
Spriggs denied that was the case, and officials at Customs were unable to say whether
they had the shipment, or when the company would claim it.
Spriggs said the new equipment - which includes repeating towers and software - should
be installed by December 23 to improve the service to the company's 250,000 subscribers.
He said the new equipment was part of MobiTel's latest effort to relieve the strain
on a system hit by growing demand for mobile phone services. With only around 3 percent
of the population carrying mobile phones, telecom executives see a huge potential
for growth in coming years.
Thailand's Shinawatra, the next biggest player, says it has around 100,000 of the
country's estimated 380,000 mobile phone users. Deputy general manager Jiroj Srinamamwont
said he expected the number of subscribers would double next year, and for several
years after that.
He said the capacity problems afflicting MobiTel had not hit his firm, as Shinawatra's
present capacity was still double its customer base. He said the company would keep
expanding its capacity.
Spriggs said MobiTel would invest another $2 million in a new routing device capable
of supporting 100,000 extra subscribers by February. The company was also working
to improve its infrastructure across the country.
"Increasingly we see the growth coming more from secondary cities," said
Spriggs referring to towns such as Kampong Thom and Kampong Cham. "The whole
region is booming. We're still investing next year so we can expand the service and
grow. We're quite bullish."