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Beeline bows out to Metfone

Beeline bows out to Metfone

Cambodian telecom giant Metfone has acquired Beeline, the nation’s fourth-largest mobile operator, in a transaction that will see Beeline transfer its assets and certain licences to the Vietnamese-owned Metfone for an undisclosed amount, according to an announcement on Beeline’s website yesterday.

Sotelco Ltd, which owns the Beeline brand, will cease all its mobile operations as well as cancel all subscriptions with consumers, according to the company statement, which said the official date of buy-out was on March 11. The release goes on to say that Beeline subscribers will automatically be transferred to Metfone’s network, but customers will have to switch over their Beeline SIM cards.

“As such, from the 24th March, Beeline subscribers should stop topping-up via Beeline scratch cards, change to Metfone’s SIM cards and top-up via Metfone’s scratch cards at Metfone’s stores nationwide,” the release read.

Subscribers who have purchased scratch cards will have to use them before March 24, after which they will no longer be valid, and distributors have been directed to contact Beeline about SIM cards and scratch cards sold but still not used.

Anthony Galliano, CEO of corporate finance and business consultancy firm Cambodian Investment Management, said the deal will be beneficial to both parties, with Metfone expected to benefit from the acquired assets, namely frequency, towers and licenses. He said the added subscribers are only a small part of the transaction.

“I think if you look at the deal it is not about subscribers. It is about the assets that Metfone acquires,” said.

Galliano added that Beeline subscribers should benefit from Metfone’s extended coverage and network, and also high-value services, like 4G data access. Whereas, Metfone would be able to increase the quality of its services, given that added frequency and hardware will improve its capacity.

However, getting all Beeline subscribers to change their SIM cards could turn out to be an inconvenience, he said.

“It is not the greatest thing for customers to have to switch their SIM cards.”

According to a July 2014 from telecommunications research company BuddeComm, Beeline had a peak subscriber base of 1.1 million in 2012, which fell to below 600,000 six months later. At the end of 2013, that figure had further dropped to fewer than half a million subscribers.

In 2013, Cambodian tycoon Hout Vanthan acquired a 90 per cent stake in Beeline from Russian mobile operator Vimplecom, increasing his 10 per cent holding in the company to full ownership.

Metfone, who is owned by Viettel (Cambodia), a Vietnamese military-owned telco firm, received its license in 2006 and began mobile operations only in 2009. As of 2013, the market leader had 9.7 million subscribers, with under a million of them using its 3G services.

Metfone officials declined to comment on the buy-out and a branch manager at Beeline’s sales office said she wasn’t in a position to comment on the sale.

According to BuddeComm’s subscriber figures for 2013, Metfone will increase its lead over second-placed Smart Axiata, which had 5.3 million subscribers. CamGSM-owned MobiTel, is close behind Smart with 4.2 million subscribers in 2013.

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