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Fixed phone users in Mumbai, India. AFP

Mobile continues to dominate

Fixed phone subscriptions are quickly getting left behind as mobile phones continue to sell like hot cakes in Cambodia, with fixed phone services likely to see little use outside of corporate niche markets, insiders say.

According to data released by the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia, the number of fixed phone subscribers nationwide has declined by hundreds of thousands since 2012, when the figure peaked at above 580,000 subscriptions. That number has shrunk by almost 50 per cent as of last year, tumbling down to a little more than 250,000 by 2015.

The decline comes as no surprise to anyone following the Kingdom’s rapid growth in mobile phone, and particularly smartphone, usage. Also according to the TRC, the number of mobile phone subscriptions is slightly above 20 million, a number that is higher than Cambodia’s entire population of 15 million. As revealed by a survey from the Open Institute released last November, 95 per cent of Cambodians have at least one mobile phone, with almost 40 per cent having at least one smartphone – a percentage which almost doubled since 2013.

The reasons for the massive growth in smartphones and concurrent decline in fixed lines are clear. Setting up a fixed phone line at home in Cambodia costs time and money, while such lines are immobile and rarely provide a way to access the internet.

Meanwhile, buying a smartphone and a SIM card remains exceedingly easy, and enables buyers to straightforwardly access the Internet via either a Wi-Fi connection or mobile data. As the Open Institute’s study showed, smartphones could boost internet connectivity to more than half of Cambodia’s population by the end of this year, while the booming market has caused competing firms to offer a seemingly never-ending array of discounts and deals.

“Cambodians use the Internet as an independent source of information, to entertain themselves with games, videos and music, and for socializing through social media platforms,” said Anthony Galliano, CEO of local social media marketing firm Dynamo Digital.

“The Internet is a big part of their daily lives, and with the arrival of 4G, smartphone growth will continue to accelerate, especially as their prices continue to fall.”

With such an importance placed on easy Internet access, telcos are focusing their efforts on high-speed 4G access and building up coverage in provincial areas rather than traditional fixed line services, which a dwindling number are even bothering to provide.
Smart Axiata, Cambodia’s second-largest mobile provider, is one of those.

“Smart doesn’t offer fixed line services, Smart as of now is a pure mobile service operator,” said Thomas Hundt, CEO of the firm.

“We see a much better proposition in mobile, mobile technology is superior to fixed, mobile can reach far further than fixed can ever do at much lower costs for the consumers.”

Nevertheless, fixed phones haven’t been abandoned entirely. Having a fixed number for a private business, for example, remains essential. According to Hundt, that means fixed phone services are now largely a “corporate-only” niche, catering to businesses rather than individuals. Even then, however, what firms like Smart and Metfone now offer is not the traditional landline-based fixed phone service but a fixed wireless service.

Hundt said the only truly “fixed infrastructure” service that remains attractive in the future is optic fibre technology, which provides faster Internet speeds but which remains out-of-reach for most Cambodian consumers at the moment.

In the end, while most adults in developed countries remember growing up with home phones and eventually getting their own personal mobile phones, that shift will likely never take place in the Kingdom, with most Cambodians leapfrogging fixed line technology and going straight to smartphones.

Amrith Chheang, a 24-year-old Pannasastra University student who also works at an education agency, says he has no plans on ever getting a fixed home line.

“I think having a cellphone is more practical: it’s easier to reach individuals or anyone you want to talk to instantly, and I don’t spend much time at home either so I don’t see how it would be useful,” he said.

“I think it’s like that for everyone.”

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