You can buy expensive cars and clothes, but in the Kingdom you're worthless without a handset that rings and blings
TELEGRAPHING wealth has been en vogue among the elite since well before the beginning of the Julian calendar.
Formerly the preserve of the Roman ruling classes, the way of the peacock has now been diluted to such an extent that it includes luminaries such as the girlfriends of professional footballers.
Nowadays, the burgeoning middle class in Cambodia are becoming just as likely to flash their cash as Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest bedfellow. Monstrous cars and glitzy designer clothes are becoming essential status symbols. Yet what’s even more crucial, and more accessible, is a blinging mobile phone.
Mobile usage in the Kingdom is increasing at lightning speed and with nine service providers now in operation, competition is fierce.
Of course, the most important part of all this social liberation for locals is how to look good while doing it. Cambodia is swimming in handsets; from the most basic throw-it-against-a-brick-wall-and-it-won’t-leave-a-scratch US$20 Nokias to sleek, top of the range numbers replete with up-to-the-minute technology like 3G and dual SIM capabilities.
Hitting the myriad street shops flogging every type of phone imaginable, the predictable preference of many shoppers at the moment is the iPhone. A genuine in the stores will set you back hundreds of dollars but head to Street 182 and you can score a knock-off for a reasonable $55. It doesn’t come with 3G but according to Tep Sovatha, the owner of Heng Sokchamrern Phone Shop, many customers aren’t bothered by this and simply want the “look” of owning an iPhone.
Tep Sovatha says that touch screens are by far the most popular feature her customers seek and the Nokia X6 ($68), which also has dual SIM capabilities, is the second-biggest seller after the fake iPhone.
Heng Sokchamrern shifts about three phones a day. Assuming each of the other hundred or so identical shops on the same street performs similarly, one doesn’t require a PhD to figure out that’s a whole lot of phones being sold every day.
For those looking for the real deal, Kfour, an electronics store located in the Sorya shopping mall, stocks all of the latest models. Its mobile counter is constantly abuzz with eager tech enthusiasts.
Ouk Raksmey, a 20-year-old retail assistant at the store, says her counter sells around 10 or 11 phones per day with most shoppers spending between $100 and $200.
WiFi is the most important feature Khmer shoppers look for in a mobile phone at Kfour says Ouk Raksmey.
One of the biggest sellers, the Nokia E-72 ($369) comes equipped with mobile Internet and has been instore for around two months. Very similar to the ever-popular BlackBerry, it’s a sharp-looking contraption and is so compact it could slip into the latest Miu Miu clutch without the bat of an eyelash.
The latest BlackBerry, the 2GB 9700B, will set you back $579.
In terms of networks, Ouk Raksmey says Mobitel and Hello are the most popular among her customers, adding that users don’t mind paying the higher price for Mobitel as the coverage is more reliable than that of other providers.
The most expensive handset on display, coming in at a cool $599, is the Sony Ericsson Xperia X-2S/B 3G. Complete with an 8.1 megapixel camera and 4GB of memory, it’s the big daddy of mobile phones in Asia’s former pearl and is usually bought by businessmen, who are also the most likely group to be seen seemingly barking into thin air after buying one of Kfour’s Bluetooth headsets ($49-$75), says Ouk Raksmey.
A survey conducted in November 2009 by Indochina Research found that this group of shoppers, who’d spend between $551 and $600 on a new mobile phone, makes up only 0.3 per cent of buyers.
The majority (66 percent) would spend between $51 and $200 – on par with what sellers have observed on the ground in their stores.
The survey was conducted among 1,019 people, aged between 15 and 49, in three of Cambodia’s provinces and found that 83.6 percent of respondents currently own at least one mobile phone.
Clearly, a mobile phone is the must-have accessory in modern Cambodia. With so many options in terms of style and savings, it’s easy to get the look with or without a pocket full of cash.