In this article, we sit down with homegrown telecoms company Cellcard to discuss the growth of the sector in Cambodia, including key milestones, achieved so far, its impact on Cambodia’s development, and how product development and innovation will be key to the future.
How has the Cambodian telecoms sector developed in the last 20 years?
Cellcard: In 1993, Cambodia was regarded as the 1st country in the world where mobile telephone subscribers surpassed fixed-lines/ wireless fixed lines at 81% vs. 19%. This was documented in a 2002 report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU Geneva Switzerland).
Analog mobile cellular service was introduced in Oct 1992 by the Cambodia Mobile Telephone Company (CamTel). Other providers followed suit. Cambodia Samart Communications (Casacom) – a joint venture between Samart Thailand, Telkom Malaysia, and the Cambodian government in November 1992, Tricelcam – a joint venture between Tri of Malaysia and the Cambodian government in October 1993, and Cambodia Shinawatra (Camshin) – a subsidiary of the Shinawatra Group Thailand in 1998.
CamGSM Co. Ltd. Originally a joint venture between the Luxembourg-based Millicom and the Royal Group of Cambodia, CamGSM Co. Ltd. was the first to launch a GSM network (Mobitel) in March 1997. But not only that. in 1998 it also launched the country’s first prepaid service (CELLcard) to make telecommunications available and affordable for more Cambodians, as well as the first nationwide coverage to reconnect communities and government across all of Cambodia’s provinces. The company took market leadership within one year of launch. By the year 2000 it had a 70% market share of the entire Cambodian telecom market.
In the following years, the brand dominated the market with multiple rollouts of first-to-market innovative services which included the introduction of SMS (2001), Roaming via Tele2 (2002), MMS, Streaming, Calltunes, Unlimited Downloads, and Cambodia’s first 3G network (2005).
How has the Cambodian telecoms sector developed in the last 10 years?
Cellcard: The development of the telecommunications industry compounded with government eﬀorts to liberalize the market led to multiple entrants all vying for market share. By 2007 there were 4 players including CamGSM Co. Ltd, Hello (Telekom Malaysia International), Mfone (Thaicom Group), and Star-Cell (TeliaSonera). 2008 saw the entrance of QB (CadComms), and Metfone (Viettel). Smart (Latelz) and Beeline (Sotelco Ltd.) followed suit in 2009. For a market the size of Cambodia, the telecoms industry was severely overcrowded. And stiff competition has plunged the industry into a price war, which later led to consolidation as operators file for bankruptcy.
The World Bank reports up to 21M mobile subscriptions in 2019 with mobile-cellular usage standing at 130 per 100 persons, compared to fixed-line connections at about 0.3 per 100 persons and declining.
Today 5 operators remain. The top three include CamGSM Co. Ltd. (Cellcard), Smart Axiata, and Viettel Metfone. Regarded as Cambodia’s ‘big three’, they account for 90% of total mobile subscribers in the Kingdom. Other operators include Cootel (Xinwei Telecom Co. Ltd.) and Seatel (South East Asia Telecom Co. Ltd.)
Since its inception in 1996, CamGSM, commercially known as Cellcard, has invested $4.74 billion over a period of 25 years in developing the country’s ICT infrastructure, including $914 million in capital expenditures and $508 million in regulatory payments.
CamGSM Co. Ltd. (Cellcard) is currently the only 100% Cambodian-owned telecommunications operator, the longest-standing operator in the Kingdom, and still one of Cambodia’s most respected brands.
How did Cambodian telecoms sector companies adapt during COVID-19?
Cellcard: Connectivity was key to providing continuity and a sense of normalcy during Covid. However, for Cellcard, being a Cambodian-owned operator, we took our role not only as a telco but as part of the community with initiatives to support government efforts against the pandemic.
In 2019, Cellcard hosted the first successful trials of a standalone (SA) 5G site reaching speeds of 1.6 Gigabits per second (Gbps). In 2020 it put that technology to work by rolling out the first 5G use case to aid Cambodia during the Covid-19 pandemic via a telemedicine service at four locations across Phnom Penh, enabling Phnom Penh’s leading doctors to assess patients nationwide via video conference link to mobile phones and devices.
During the lockdown, Cellcard’s network teams ensured those living in red zones were able to stay connected with loved ones by strengthening network signals and adding more cell sites throughout the areas. Our commercial teams partnered with private businesses and NGOs to provide red zone residents with essential supplies, including food and other household items when they were unable to leave their homes.
Together with the Ministry of Health and Samdech Techo Voluntary Youth Doctor Association, A Royal Group Vaccination center was also rolled out with volunteer staff dedicating their time to its operation which lasted over a month and vaccinated more than 10,000 people.
For these efforts, Cellcard was awarded the CSR Excellence Award by the American Chamber of Commerce in 2021.
With mobile data use reportedly the highest in the world among lower- and middle-income countries, how is the rapid adoption of digital changing the landscape of the Cambodian telecoms sector?
It is without a doubt that Covid has been instrumental in accelerating digital adoption. The changes in how our customers use connectivity have changed drastically. We see connectivity play a bigger role in the lives and livelihoods of our customers. Consumption of online entertainment, adoption of e-commerce, conferencing and productivity apps, health, and fitness apps, etc. Our customers relied on connectivity for life continuity not only business continuity.
In 2022, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications reported that Cambodia has some 17.8 million internet subscribers, exceeding the country’s total population of 16 million, 17.48 million of which have subscribed to mobile internet service and 312,233 to fixed internet service.
How will eCommerce continue to impact the cambodian telecoms sector?
In 2023, Cambodia’s e-commerce market is poised to reach $1.78B by 2025, fueled by the rapid adoption of digital payments in the kingdom. According to the Khmer Enterprise estimates, among 17.06 million people, there were 22.06 million mobile phone connections, 13.44 million internet users, and 12.6 million social media users in Cambodia.
With the discovery of how connectivity can improve the way they work, live, and play, our customers have become more inquisitive on what else is out there. This drives even more data usage. And telecoms need to make bigger efforts in providing more value, better network quality, and new connectivity experiences in the Cambodian telecoms sector.
In 2022 we embarked on a turnaround strategy with a re-energised focus on the heart of our business – network performance. In partnership with Huawei and Nokia, we have rolled up significant network upgrades and enhancements which include the following:
- Additional 95 sites across 10 provinces,
- 4CA activation (961 sites ) in 10 provinces
- 3CA activation (1227 sites ) in 16 provinces
- 2CA activation of the entire Cellcard network
- VOLTE Activation for the entire Cellcard Network
- RAN Network Software Upgrade to new version and Features
- Network Wide VOLTE (Voice Over LTE) Activation
- IBS and Microcells solutions to fill in coverage gaps in Phnom Penh’s residential areas or “Boreys”,
Our network achievement in 2022 has been rewarded with Cellcard reclaiming its title as Cambodia’s Fastest Mobile Network with its Ookla Speedtest Award, 6 awards from Opensignal with undisputed wins on Download Speed Experience and Excellent Consistent quality, and makes history with the first Global citation as an awardee in Opensignals Global Rising Star Awards for most improved download speed experience year on year. This put us within the top 10% of the world’s 174 telecoms.
In 2022, we celebrated our 25th anniversary with the launch of a number of innovations to provide our customers with new experiences and better value in the Cambodian telecoms sector.
What innovative new products have been introduced in the Cambodian telecoms sector?
Digitisation introduces new lifestyle needs, and we want our customers to keep exploring and broadening their digital horizons. In 2022, 4 key products were introduced to enrich our customers’ connected experience and be an enabler for more digital fun:
- Time To Rise marks the first time in Cambodian telcom sector industry that a product is developed and marketed in collaboration with an artist, and the first time Spotify is introduced to the Cambodian market. Cellcard Time To Rise has been awarded “Marketing Campaign of the Year 2022” by CMO Asia.
- Playgame Unlimited offers unlimited data for Cambodia’s top esports gaming titles – PUBGM, MLBB and FreeFire. In 2022, the offer has been updated to also include arcade games. Playgame received an award for “Best Esports and Arcades Game Platform 2022” from the International Business Magazine. Playgame Cloud Is Cambodia’s first cloud gaming platform, created to make gaming more inclusive and affordable to all Cambodians by allowing them to access and play console games on devices they already have.
- Cellcard Serey is the first plan to provide the full maximum data benefit allowed by the Telecom Regulator of Cambodia, giving our customers the freedom to use all their data as they see fit – to fit their individual digital lifestyles. And to provide even more value to our customers, we’ve introduced Rollover for the Serey plans, which allows our customers to carry forward any unused data and calls to their next Serey subscription, so nothing goes to waste.
- On top of this, we have launched also made improvements to our Customer Service to improve CRM in the Cambodian telecoms sector. Read more below.
How has the Cambodian telecoms sector improved its customer service in 2023?
Cellcard: Last year we started micro-hubbing. We’re ensuring that we’re where our customers are. That’s why aside from our bigger service centers, we’ve deployed Cellcard Micro Hubs, as well as started collaborating with our sister companies to provide customers a more integrated service experience in all offices.
We also launched the first Cellcard X Ezecom Digital Experience Centers, offering full service from both brands providing for all the connectivity needs of our customers, whether mobile or broadband, under one roof.
We’ve also launched an EKYC feature in the Cellcard App making it easier, faster and more convenient for our customers to register their SIMS and update their profiles.
How important is the delivery of a fast and efficient telecom service for Cambodia’s continued development?
Paramount. the government has set out the Cambodia Digital Economy and Society Policy Framework 2021-2035 with a vision of transforming the country into a vibrant digital economy and society. The direction of this change is to make the most of the evolution of information and communication technology.
Under the country code +855, there were a total of 19.94 million connections in 2021. Among them were 19.90 million mobile phones, which corresponds to an average of 1.2 per person.
And with most connectivity coming from the mobile and telecoms sector, the importance of development in telecoms is of great importance in achieving the vision for the country’s digitization.
How have telecom providers expanded their portfolio of services to offer added value for businesses and customers?
Beyond mobile connectivity, telecoms in Cambodia have expanded to offering broadband/wifi services to address the need and demands for connectivity for homes and businesses alike. We’re also seeing more business solutions and productivity tools utilizing connectivity to increase efficiencies and automate operations being launched. Plus, with more Cambodians connected through their phones, broadcast services via SMS/ IVR are becoming increasingly important as a B2B service.
In 2022, Cellcard launched its first dual-play product in collaboration with its sister company Ezecom, providing customers with a holistic package that combines mobile and broadband connectivity for both residential and business.
Home entertainment is changing as more and more platforms for rich media content become available. Video-on-demand, music streaming and gaming platforms are increasingly becoming popular, and while traditional entertainment channels like TV and radio continue to be significant, the future of entertainment in Cambodia lies online, especially among the tech-savvy generation. That’s what we’re enabling with the Cellcard One Home Plan.
On the other hand, Cellcard One Business plan was conceived with the SMEs in mind, allowing them a hassle free, all-in-one solution that offers them the best quality internet to support their business at great value. On top of this, our portfolio includes Fleet Management services, CloudPBX services, SMS broadcast services.
Cellcard also continues to introduce innovations with recent launches: Playgame Unlimited – the first esports/ game segment specific bundle offering 0-rating data for top esports titles, Time To Rise – the first data plan with an artist and introducing Spotify, Playgame Cloud – the first cloud gaming platform in Cambodia, Cellcard One – first dual-play subscription in collaboration with Ezecom, Cellcard Serey – the biggest data offer offer (As regulated by the TRC).