Cambodia has taken another great leap forward in ICT development by entering the satellite age and using that technology to enhance television, phone and internet services.
Almost 60 foreign satellites have Cambodia in their footprint, including Thailand’s Thaicom, India’s Insat, China’s Asiasat and South Korea’s Koreasat.
The latest satellite launched that will beam into Cambodia is Vinasat-1, the first Vietnamese satellite which successfully blasted into orbit on April 19. This satellite will open up many of Cambodia’s more remote areas to telecommunications.
But the biggest effect of satellite technology will be the provision of television across Cambodia.
At the beginning of April, Techo-DTV’s service was launched, becoming the first satellite television network service to provide direct-to-home television programming for people who can afford $75 for a satellite dish with a set-top box unit.
Cambodian DTV Network Ltd, a subsidiary of the Thai Shin satellite company, will provide seven free Cambodian channels, and its website claims it will later provide pay-TV channels dedicated to news, movies, dramas, music, sports, shopping, education and documentaries.
However, there is some skepticism about the future of this technology because of the price of the equipment, and also because of the poor choice of channels and lack of program diversity.
But the government is pushing such criticism aside, pointing out that the technology provides access to TV for the first time in remote areas of the Kingdom.
“The satellite technology is an essential tool for disseminating knowledge and information, and at the same time it guarantees the right of the people to access of information,” said Khieu Kanharith, the Minister of Information.
“In the future, educative channels will be added but for the moment we face a lack of human resources. The government has fully matched the potential of this technology,” he said.
A technician who specializes in satellite technology said this direct-to-home television is “not bad,” but it is just a beginning.
“It is less expensive to pay $75 for life than $10 per month for the cable,” he said. “But for $10 you get more than 60 channels, including foreign channels.”
Content will be one of the key determinant factors for the future of DTV, as Cambodia prepares to abandon the analog system and become digital before 2015.
“That’s what we plan to do in order to be like the others,” said Kanharith.
Adopting an international standard, which is supported by the International Telecommunication Union, brings advantages.
“Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) allows, for example, reception of six channels on a single frequency,” said Olivier Sieber, executive director of Apsara Television.
The quality of pictures and sound should be better with DTT, but this new system also has drawbacks: new production equipment and adapted antennas are required. A set-top box will also be necessary, which is already less expensive than a satellite dish.
The big question is will DTT kill this satellite technology? If anything, the advent of DTT should prompt Cambodian DTV to offer a greater range of channels if it wants to remain competitive.
But an increase in channels could present a new problem – a lack of Cambodian content.
“It is not easy to tell stories,” explains Sieber, “And for that you need journalists, comperes, producers. Do you know how long you need to train a confirmed producer? Ten years.”