Long-overdue Consolidation of the Kingdom’s Mobile Telecoms Market May Have Operators Feeling Hopeful, but Challenges Remain

April 15th, 2013 , Southeast Asia Globe

After years of immersion in a vicious price war, battle weary and capital-haemorrhaging [sic] mobile operators in Cambodia’s oversaturated telecommunications sector may finally have reason to breathe a sigh of relief; 2013 might be cited as the year the tide turned. …

Tarred by legal threats, unfair competition practices, trash-talking in the media and engagement in cripplingly expensive advertising campaigns, the industry’s ugly side has reared its head on several occasions since the market started overcrowding in 2006. Yet recent and long overdue consolidations in the market have some chief executives trading their swords for confetti, handshakes and electric-light breakdancers.

With over five million subscribers, Smart is now the second-largest operator in the country behind Metfone, owned by Viettel, a military-backed Vietnamese-owned telecommunications firm. Smart plans to expand its network and operational coverage throughout Cambodia and reinvigorate investors to develop infrastructure, says [Thomas] Hundt. [CEO of the repackaged brand ‘Smart’]. All the while the merger removes interconnection fees between Hello and Smart mobile users – a blessing in a market that operators claim is under-regulated and where complaints have been filed against companies that have not paid interconnection fees. …

With the industry reduced to six active operators, experts and mobile operators agree that the two developments have birthed new life into a market that, until now, has sustained multimillion-dollar losses each year. Revenues from phone usage in the Kingdom remain low, while an infant smartphone culture yields limited capital from data plans. …

The merger followed hot on the heels of Thaicom’s announcement that its lawsuit-laden subsidiary Mfone, which had been operating in Cambodia for two decades, was insolvent. …

“I think that this had to happen… The market can now begin to move at a level with more sustainable competition finally, and in the long term we won’t see any more of these crazy price wars,” said Marc Einstein, an independent telecom analyst. “I think in a market the size of Cambodia, in terms of population and GDP [gross domestic product], you can only have three, maybe four operators for the sector to be sustainable.”…

“I would say that because of the initial rush of entrants, the equipment was improved substantially, but… now quality is definitely toward the bottom compared to Thailand or Vietnam,” Einstein said. …

At first, services improved. But as huge promotions became the industry standard, the price of a domestic call dropped to just $0.01 per minute, far below Thailand’s $0.05 to $0.06 per minute and around $0.15 per minute paid in Hong Kong. …

“The problem is that, even at six players, there is still going to be a price war at a high level of competition,” said Dimitry Bushik, chief commercial officer at Excell, one of Cambodia’s mobile operators. …

Philip Heijmans
http://sea-globe.com/united-we-stand/