The days of using an Icom – the bulky two-way radios once commonplace across Cambodia – are over. Today, the nation’s 2.5 million mobile phone users can choose from a range of the latest models, with many paying top dollar as the hand phone becomes an essential daily accessory.
Not long ago it became clear to Ros Pirun and the other tuk tuk, taxi and moto drivers along the riverside that they needed to buy mobile phones so their customers could call for a pickup.
“I have to have it. It’s not easy to earn money without it,” says Pirun, a taxi driver, explaining that he could earn as much as $400 a month by keeping connected to his customers.
That Pirun and the other riverside drivers use mobile phones at all is one sign that information and communications technology, or ICT, is a growing force in Cambodia – one which is expected to have a profound effect on the country’s development as it emerges from decades of civil strife.
“(ICT) knowledge, skills and expertise of Cambodian people will become increasingly crucial to the country’s economic growth,” says the National ICT Development Authority, or NiDA, which was established by the government in 2000.
While mobile phone use is one of the most obvious signs of ICT in Cambodia – it is one of the first countries where handsets outnumbered fixed lines – the sector also includes the internet, cable and satellite technologies, all of which are making advances here.
ICT has already been used to facilitate e-visas, and is expected to soon streamline vehicle and real estate registration.
E-government, while still in its infant stages, is increasingly connecting various ministries to the larger online community.
Inside Cambodia, roughly 13,000 people are estimated to regularly use the internet, mainly in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, according to NiDA.
While foreign tourists increasingly drive the need for more accessible web connections, young Cambodians are also playing a significant role in the internet’s development here.
“Two Cambodian youth and student organizations were among the earliest users of email systems in Cambodia in 1995,” says NiDA in an extensive survey of the country’s ICT sector.
However, the high cost of accessing the internet has slowed its growth in Cambodia, particularly in rural areas – although web connections can now be found in the most far-flung provincial capital.
“The introduction of internet and especially broadband internet is still very much in the early stages,” says industry analyst BuddComm.
It is in the telecommunications field that ICT has made its greatest strides in Cambodia, according to experts.
“Cambodia’s telecommunications sector has seen rapid change during the last decade,” says NiDA.
Mobilie phone use soars
While fixed line penetration has remained largely static since 1995, mobile phone use has exploded, with an estimated 2.5 million subscribers now using one or more of the five mobile service providers currently operating in Cambodia.
And Cambodia’s mobile subscriber base is expected to continue expanding, industry officials say.
Market penetration will reach 50 percent “over the next few years,” says Morten Eriksen, CEO of Cadcomms, whose qb network is the newest entry into the mobile sector, adding that content-driven services – like television or web connections – are expected now to drive the market.
“Mobile high-speed internet access will be a breakthrough service in the market as Cambodians are on average very young and eager to use new technology,” he says.
But with mobile penetration still only at 17 percent, Cambodia’s mobile market remains vast.
As more Cambodians get connected, competition between the country’s mobile operators is heating up, and some experts predict an industry shakeout ahead, particularly as the new international entrants into the market take aim at industry leader MobiTel.
MobiTel, which provides the 012, 092 and 017 phone umbers, has grown from about 250,000 subscribers six years ago to 1.5 million today.
But the company is facing increasingly creative competitors eager to take away it customers through ever-more enticing promotions and services.
“A lot of people like to use MobiTel because it was the first service provider, but the other phone companies are coming up with better, cheaper promotions,” says a Phnom Penh phone vendor.
“It is easier to use some other service providers to do things like make international phone calls,” he adds.
With the arrival of more providers, industry experts predict that the number of mobile users could top 6.4 million by 2011, leading to dramatic changes in the mobile market.
But according to NiDA, ICT development goes far beyond the private sector and is crucial to Cambodia’s overall development.
“Cambodia … has considered the policy to adopt ICT as a part of socio-economic development,” NiDA says, acknowledging that “public communication means for village, provincial and central government has only very slowly developed in the last ten years.”
The “ICT Use and Infrastructure for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Survey” was carried out by NiDA between December 2006 and April 2007. Some 1,000 SMEs in 14 cities were questioned. The report, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, is yet to be released. Here are some of its findings:
Phone penetration: 12.9 per 100 inhabitants (includes fixed line and mobile)
Use of PCs:
78.4% used for typing text
58.5% used for internet
42.4% used for computing
33.0% used for communication with clients
20.3% used for product design
19.0% used to provide a service
16.4% used for education
Type of operating system:
90.0% Microsoft Windows
0.008% Sun OS/Solar
Number of internet users: 13,000 (mostly in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap)
Types of businesses with network connection:
According to a survey of 422 firms:
ICT firms: 89% have internet
Transport and logistics: 81%
Media and Entertainment: 68%
Consumer goods: 48.5%
Businesses’ type of network:
Local Area Network: 69.6%
Wireless Area Network: 22.5%
Wireless Local Area Network: 7.9%
Distribution of Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
Satisfaction of internet speed
Not satisfied: 45%
Reason for not being satisfied