Cambodia’s mobile sector still ‘hot’ as newly-created TRC takes on challenging regulatory job
Despite its status as a least developed country and remaining one of the poorer countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s efforts to expand and upgrade its telecom infrastructure are bearing fruit. There was very little infrastructure remaining from before the tumultuous Khmer Rouge days. As a result, Cambodia bypassed rebuilding the fixed-line market and quickly launched into alternative technologies, jump-starting its telecommunications infrastructure with digital technology. Not surprisingly, mobile services completely overwhelmed the market, at least initially. In recent times there have been between eight and ten mobile operators vigorously competing with each other in a market segment that was continuing to grow at a healthy annual rate. There were around 13 million mobile subscribers (penetration 86%) coming into 2012 and this figure was set to reach 17 million by end-2012. (It is noted that the available statistics are somewhat inconsistent, but, where appropriate, reasonable estimates have been made in the report.) The mobile market was continuing in a very strong growth phase (40% plus annually) and continues to attract interest from foreign operators seeking to be part of it.
Some limited fixed-line growth had earlier come about in Cambodia, mostly through investment under foreign assistance plans, but this mainly benefited the capital Phnom Penh. Subsequently, geographical coverage did not increase significantly for a decade or more. The number of fixed-line services remained relatively static for some years at around 50,000. By 2010, however, the numbers were starting to head upwards. The arrival of Viettel in the market place in 2009 proved to be the trigger for a surge in growth. (Again, there remained some uncertainty about the accuracy of the available statistics.) It remains to be seen whether the current expansion in fixed lines is sustained.
The expansion of internet services in Cambodia has been largely overshadowed by the strong focus on mobile services. Internet take-up rates have remained disturbingly low for many years, presenting one of the lowest internet penetrations in the region. Of course, for a long time the limited fixed-line infrastructure had been a major inhibiting factor in the roll-out of both dial-up and DSL internet services. The internet market started to change in 2007 when wireless broadband services first began to appear in a serious manner. There has been a surge in the number of operators interested in this particular form of broadband and especially WiMAX. By 2011 there were signs of a major upturn in internet numbers on the back of the increased broadband penetration. Overall internet penetration and online activity remained low, however.
The country’s telecom regulatory regime went through a difficult period in 2010/2011. Early in 2010 the licensed WiMAX operators were waiting on their frequency allocations from the government. But the MPTC awarded the same frequency bands to another operator. This triggered a long-running dispute that was threatening to disrupt the wider market. There were other similar incidents during that period. There appeared to have been some resolution of the problem in 2011 with some of the licensees starting to roll out their networks. Nevertheless, uncertainty remained and stronger resolution was clearly needed.
Faced with growing concern about the country’s regulatory regime, the government finally moved on the long awaited establishment of an autonomous industry regulator. The Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications (MPTC) officially launched the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) in September 2012. The move effectively transferred the regulatory role of the MPTC to the TRC, making the new authority responsible for the key areas of spectrum allocation and the regulation of pricing, among others. The regulator also had the authority to deal with a range of disputes including technical, operations and network usage matters.
Cambodia’s mobile market continued on its positive expansion path into 2012, although the annual growth rate was moderating slightly;
With mobile penetration of around 94% by March 2012, the market had passed the 14 million subscriber milestone;
Cambodia had nine licensed mobile operators in a crowded, highly competitive market that invited questions about overcrowding and the need to rationalise in some way;
One of the newcomers to the mobile sector, Smart Mobile, launched in 2009, had expanded rapidly to reach number two position in the market in terms of subscribers;
Development of fixed-line services, very sluggish for more than a decade, suddenly picked up momentum and the subscriber numbers surged to present a teledensity of 4% early in 2012;
The internet segment had also been languishing for some time, but there were promising signs that the introduction of wireless broadband services was finally boosting growth;
By early 2012 there were still only around 500,000 internet users in the country, representing just 3% of the population;
In an important move for the local telecom industry, the government officially launched the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) in September 2012.
Cambodia - key telecom parameters – 2011 - 2012
Category | 2011 | 2012 (e)
Fixed-line services: | |
Total No. of subscribers | 530,000 | 700,000
Internet services: | |
Total No. of subscribers1 | 75,000 | 100,000
Mobile services: | |
Total No. of subscribers | 13.0 million | 17.0 million
Note: 1Fixed subscribers
This report provides an overview of the trends and developments in the telecommunications markets in Cambodia.
Subjects covered include:
Market and industry overviews;
Major operators (mobile and fixed);
Telecom market scenario forecasts (mobile, internet, fixed) for 2015 and 2020.
Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.