The telecommunications and internet services sector is hotly contested in the Kingdom, with a handful of firms vying to become the provider of choice. Connectivity seems sufficient with free wifi available in almost every store. But underneath is a network that is under-resourced, heavily reliant on foreign infrastructure and overdue for upgrades. Cue Sanjaya, deputy director general of the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC). Specialising in solving Asia Pacific’s internet infrastructure woes, Sanjaya spoke with the Post’s Eddie Morton about Cambodia’s online evolution.
What is APNIC and how is it assisting Cambodia?
APNIC distributes internet protocol – IP – addresses to all 56 economies in the Asia Pacific. Every device that uses the internet requires a unique IP address, much like a phone number. We provide all of Cambodia’s telecom firms, ISPs and some large organisations, such as universities, with these numbers. They pay a membership fee based on the number of addresses they’re using for their customers.
What is the current state of Cambodia’s internet network?
Though Cambodia was a bit of a latecomer to the internet, the core infrastructure is there. Cambodians are very aware of the tourism industry and that alone helped drive internet growth.
But Cambodia still has a very few local networks set up. This is due to a severe shortage of engineers trained to build and maintain local networks. Cambodia relies on outside sources to support its domestic traffic and, like most Asia Pacific internet users, most Cambodian internet users are feeding off a sub-level connection from, say, a server or network based overseas. Not having a strong network of top-tier servers makes it more expensive as traffic travels overseas and back.
I randomly checked a Cambodian bank’s website and found it was hosted in the US. This says a lot about Cambodia’s network and its security. Sure, it can be cheaper, more secure and more reliable to host your network overseas, but it’s almost always better to host in your home country. Why? Because most people using your website are Cambodians – so why should their traffic be transported all the way to the US and back?
So what then needs to change?
Training is a big deal. Without people able to maintain and contribute to the country’s network, you will not have a network. It all starts with the people.
There is a serious shortage of engineers in Asia Pacific – it’s shocking how few there are. And, as I mentioned above, with most people running off a sub-level network, we really need more people here to learn how to set up and maintain their own top-tier networks so that the country does not rely on foreign systems to keep them connected.
What is the government’s role in all of this?
The TRC needs to strengthen their knowledge and skill level. This is absolutely critical. Let’s firstly make sure people know what they are doing and know correctly how to build their networks in a secure manner.
This is not like a telephone network, it requires different engineers, laws and security. Like most governments, Cambodia has a fund for internet development. We would like TRC to use those funds to improve skills in the ITC profession – engineers and training for public officials.
A comprehensive law is also key, with focus on the security and justice to police, regulate and process crimes within the online realm. The government needs to foster the country’s network’s growth. Some governments keep control over the internet sector, but it’s important that they don’t diminish the country’s growth in the online spectrum by trying to unnecessarily regulate network traffic, tariffs and IP addresses.
Ezecom and NTT both plan on connecting Cambodia to two separate submarine cables. How is this going to benefit the country?
The country needs its own connection in order to reduce its dependency on imported networks from Vietnam and Thailand. Both of those countries already have access to these undersea cables, and I can understand Cambodia’s strategy to piggy-back off them. But it is a great move to connect these cables directly to the country, and multiple connections is definitely best.
Is it urgent for Cambodia to reduce its network reliance on Thailand and Vietnam?
Not necessarily. Cambodia does not want to completely divorce its network from Thailand and Vietnam, despite how many undersea cables they connect to. This is all about regional and even global interconnectivity, after all. But if you are relying too much on outside networks, the cost does creep up.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity