AMONG the most competitive mobile phone sectors on the planet, Cambodia in January saw nine operators drop to eight competing for just 15 million people when Smart Mobile merged with Star Cell in a market that has mostly competed on call charges over the past two years.
But news last week that Smart Mobile is set to roll out 3.75G mobile internet across the country by the end of next month confirms the mobile sector is increasingly engaging in a full-on battle to deliver the fastest web access as the country remains devoid of a logical, transparent licensing process.
With its new faster mobile internet, Smart Mobile has moved to the front of the sector in terms of technology including Mobitel, Hello and qb. Hello claims to run its 3.5G wireless modem at speeds of up to 3.6 megabits per minute, while qb has claimed speeds of 14.4 mbps since January, which would be matched by Smart Mobile’s new service. But this position may not last much longer – new operator Emaxx has said it plans to launch 4G mobile internet next year at what would be even faster connection speeds.
While these multiple investments are all good for competition and therefore certainly the consumer – Cambodia’s mobile internet speeds have accelerated over a very short space of time – for the companies involved the playing field remains uncertain.
Even though the area of completion is expanding, the question remains: are these operators developing a long-term competitive advantage that will see them carve out greater market share and sustainable profits?
Or are they digging themselves in a bigger financial hole in a hugely competitive market that still has overlapping bandwidth, no telecoms law, no separate regulator and zero licensing transparency?
Emaxx is a case in point. After an overlapping-bandwidth issue, its chief operating offi-cer, Frank May, told The Post in March that Viettel and Russian firm Altech had also been awarded 4G licences.
Countries such as India and Thailand have cleaned up their licensing processes, giving operators a clear understanding of who their competitors are, but in Cambodia this informat-ion remains hazy.
That means all are essentially developing multi-million dollar wireless infrastructure without knowing whether another company is negotiating the latest-technology licence with the sector’s supposed regulator, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
For companies such as Smart, these investments are a calculated risk. They hope that, by investing to stay ahead of the game, they will generate a competitive advantage that will aid long-term survival.
But we won’t know how this evolving mobile internet competition plays out until the 4G service providers launch in coming months. Meanwhile, operators that have staked claims on the market by investing in lesser technology will be hoping they can still compete.