CAMBODIA’S largest mobile provider, Mobitel’s Cellcard brand, is growing rapidly in the supply of internet services – part of a larger trend of consumer demand to get on the internet with smaller, more portable devices such as smartphones and slate computers – to check email from anywhere, anytime.
“We have had a very high growth in the use of data,” said Cellcard/Mobitel CEO David Spriggs. “We believe we have the highest speed of a 3G network linked to fibre connectivity, a price for an unlimited data usage package goes from 50 cents a day to $5 a month and it is very easy to use,” Spriggs said.
The term 3G refers to a “third generation” in standards for mobile telephones and mobile telecommunication services as set by the International Telecommunications Union.
Cambodia’s embrace of 3G technology through mobile operators here, and the coming shift to its 4G successor, seems to be causing a paradigm shift in how most people connect to the internet, which no longer requires a telephone line or fibre optic cable, only a smartphone, mobile device or PC with a SIM card-capable modem stick.
“There is an evolution of cellular technology and this is the third generation,” Spriggs said. “We were the first ones to launch 3G here, in 2005, and what it meant at that time was that we could offer higher internet access speeds. Now we have much more powerful data services that we can offer at much higher speeds.
“Fibre networks are now allowing us to have very high capacity data feeds into the world internet.”
“Our philosophy is to make it simple for people to connect to the internet at a good price so they get a good quality of service. What we’ve got now is end to end speed. We’re not talking about just the radio being fast – we’re talking about right from the device, right the way through to the actual connecting to the internet, through Hong Kong or wherever, that high speed is all the way through. We’ve got massive capacity and massive capabilities,” Spriggs said.
A standard $5 Cellcard can be used to charge an ordinary SIM card, and the message “Inet3” is then sent to the number 6767 and the SIM is thus enabled to carry internet data from a modem stick so users can get on the internet from anywhere in Cambodia that a cell phone could be used. For email checking, the 1 gigabyte “fair use” policy could easily last for a month, for $5.
For a $50 card, a user can get nearly unlimited data transfers for a month, opening the way for what could be a revolution in how people connect to the internet in Cambodia – no longer dependent on connections to physical lines.
Cellcard is the largest of the eight mobile operators in Cambodia’s marketplace, with between 40 and 45 percent of the market.
Spriggs said Cellcard/Mobitel entered the market in 1997, the fourth operator at the time, and focused initially on quality of service and coverage.
“Our initial strategy was to roll out a very extensive network around the whole country so we could have nationwide coverage and to focus on quality of service,” he said. “We understand that customers want to be able to make a phone call when they want to anytime.
“So that’s what we started. As the market has developed we have changed with it and have introduced a lot of value added services.”
Spriggs’ colleague, Chief Operating Officer Kay Lot, says different people have different needs.
“If you are a tourist or your stay here is short term on business, you can get a daily pass, a weekly pass; the choices are very simple.”
Spriggs said the entire Cellcard network has been migrated to the IP protocol, which the internet is based on, with fibre optic cables providing the main connectivity and speed for all customers, voice or data.
“The device you attach to our network, whether it is a mobile phone or iPad or iPhone or a computer, runs straight into the network and straight out for voice and for data,” he said.
Even though Cellcard/Mobitel is the local dealer for the Blackberry, mobile operators like Cellcard are happy with any device chosen by their customers.
“You choose your device from a very wide selection and the market here is fantastic. It provides a very wide choice and very competitive on pricing. You buy the unit you want and you choose the service you want,” Spriggs said.
Spriggs himself carries an iPhone and his colleague Kay Lot carries a Blackberry.
iPhones and Blackberries are examples of smartphones, which account for about 20 percent of the market in Cambodia. What distinguishes a smartphone from a “feature phone” is usually a larger screen and internet capability.
Feature phones have in excess of 60 percent of the Cambodian market, according to Cellcard Chief Operating Office Kay Lot, who has been with Cellcard/Mobitel since 2003.
Spriggs has been working in Cambodia for 11 years. He previously worked for Melcom in Tanzania and the Philippines and has been employed by Mobitel/Cellcard since 2000.
Even though Spriggs is seeing very rapid growth in mobile internet connectivity, he doesn’t think it is the end of fibre-connected internet service.
“There is a place for each type of service. Fibre is more for the corporate customer, very high volume stuff,” he said.
Another Cellcard product is called “wireless hub”, that enables up to five people on computers attached to the same connection.
“You can put it on the table right now and have your own wireless network, and run it on a 3G SIM card,” Spriggs said.
Cellcard is rolling out a new service this week called XG, aimed at the young, technology-savvy segment of the marketplace, according to Spriggs.
“XG goes beyond just the convenience and the value. We are looking much more at the content. It pushes them to a website where they can enjoy a wide variety of content and different services. It is like a community that they can engage with using their phone – it allows them to customise their phone, communicate with groups of other subscribers. There are quite a few new features that we are launching.
“Think about what the internet allows you to do compared to 10 years ago. It is just phenomenal. Now you’re not tied down, you can go anywhere, you can be sitting at a restaurant and chat to friends on Facebook or check your emails or search the internet as well as you can do at home or at the office,” he said.