LIN Sok, 15, and Thy Da, 15, sit in front of a mobile phone service shop on Sorya Shopping Centre’s third floor, chatting each other up, waiting for the shopworkers to finish installing new content on Lin Sok’s phone.
As her mobile is handed back to her, she cycles through its menu to check the new add-on, a Khmer-to-English dictionary. When asked if she also had any new ringtones added, she said, “No, I already have ringtones on my phone that my friends sent me on Bluetooth, I don’t have to come here to buy them.
“All our friends share them between each other,” Thy Da chimed in, explaining that, when new songs are released, someone within their circle of friends will have it as a ringtone and share it with everyone via a Bluetooth device. “Either that or, if you have access to a computer, you can just get a cable, connect to your computer and put the song on to your phone yourself,” she added.
Mobile-phone-wielding youths all over the world have coveted the latest ringtones since Finnish mobile provider Radiolinja, now Elisa, decided to market music as a downloadable ring in 1998.
Following the inception of this technological phenomenon, which subsequently birthed an industry that annually pulls in billions of US dollars across the globe, the popularity of personalising the sound one’s phone makes has reached every corner of the globe.
Although there are no official figures publicly available of ringtone sales in Cambodia, the ringtone boom looks to have accompanied the growth of mobile phone users in the Kingdom, which increased from 660,933 in 2004 to last year’s whopping figure of more than five million users, according to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
With Business Monitor International (BMI) forecasting a 26 percent annual increase in Cambodia’s mobile subscribers up to 2014, according to their Telecommunications report for this year’s first quarter, the trend of ringtones and personalised phone content will only continue to grow.
“All my ringtones I get from my friends. We all share with each other,” said Py Te, 18. “They all have so many songs, but I just keep one ringtone on my phone. I can change it anytime a new song comes out because I know one of my friends will have it.”
“There was a time when business grew fast…. But with all the people selling ringtones now and kids trading with each other on Bluetooth, there is still business, but I have only seen a small increase in people buying ringtones,” said Mao Sophal, who owns a ringtone business on the corner of streets 67 and 142 in the capital. The going-rate for a ringtone on the street is 500 riels (US$0.12).
Sith Rithy is self-taught in the trade of providing personalised mobile phone content. It was his interest in computers that led him to open up his business. The most common way Sith Rithy provides the songs is simply to buy the disc from a shop, then extract them onto a computer’s hard drive. From there, Sith Rithy said that you have to convert the music into whatever format the phone will accept, typically MP3.
Cambodia’s newest entry in an already cluttered mobile market, Smart Mobile, is optimistic about maintaining their customer base in the ringtone business.
Since the company entered Cambodia in February 2009, Smart Mobile claims the number of subscribers downloading their ringtones has grown monthly, according to an emailed statement by Public Relations Leader Lav Srey Dett.
Smart Mobile remains confident their service will be successful because “we can always offer the easiest and most convenient way for subscribers to get their favorite tunes as a ringtone ... no matter if you need a high quality MP3, or a polyphonic melody – we offer all.”
But with free content so readily available, the jury is still out on whether the ringtone can be a moneymaker in Cambodia.