June 24, 2011

In pictures: Cambodia's booming mobile phone market

Pick a number – any number. Cambodian mobile phone users really cannot go wrong. There are eight networks already operating and a ninth will soon join them. That keeps prices extremely low for the pre-pay SIMs which dominate the market. Some are free; others come with pre-loaded credit.  
There are dozens of SIM vendors around Phnom Penh’s Old Market. At her shop, Dy Suer sells cards from all the networks. She says many of her customers buy multiple SIMs to take advantage of free on-network minutes. Phones which take three SIMs at once are popular and cheap.
Phnom Penh’s Night Market has become one of the main places for mobile phone action. In a country with a population of just 14 million people, there are around 10 million connections, according to the government. But the networks admit that fewer than half of those may be active users – as they flit from one deal to the next.

Picking out a number is no casual matter. If a phone is being used for business, choosing an auspicious combination is important. Those which are easy to remember cost more – but eights and sevens are considered lucky and are priced even higher.

The networks all have different tactics for standing out. But they share a fondness for setting up booths blasting out music at ear-splitting volumes, interspersed with promotional patter from a fast-talking MC. Whether it attracts customers or drives them away is a matter of some debate.
From its launch in 2008, qb has presented itself as just as much a mobile internet provider as a phone network. But its 3G-only offering proved a hard sell – and qb has just launched a complementary 2G network.
The Beeline network has painted much of the city yellow and black as it tries to create a buzz. It is majority-owned by Russia’s Vimpelcom. “The mobile penetration rate is still low and the Cambodian economy is developing very fast,” says commercial director Benoit Janin. “This is an interesting opportunity for investors.”
With networks competing on price and service, customers are looking to upgrade – and take advantage of cheap 3G connections. Smart phones are being marketed heavily – and snapped up quickly.
“The iPhone is our big seller,” says Butho, as he sits behind the counter of his Central Phone shop in Phnom Penh. “Nokia is going down and other smart phones are selling better, like HTC.”
A small but growing number of Cambodians are using their new phones to embrace social media. “They start by sharing things about their daily lives, like their wedding photos,” says Santel Phin, aka blogger Khmer Bird. “But more advanced users have started to talk about politics and the problems facing our society.”

No comments:

Post a Comment