June 17, 2011

Smart takes the net mobile


SMART Mobile’s 3.75G service seeks to capitalise on the coming boom in the Kingdom’s mobile internet market, Chief Executive Officer Thomas Hundt said.

Experts put Cambodia’s internet penetration at less than 1 percent, and there are still many part of the country that Internet Service Providers have yet to reach. Hundt said internet-enabled phones will fill those gaps.

“Internet is still in, unfortunately, small shoes here in Cambodia,” the CEO said. “That’s why mobile internet is a technology which is definitely having a big future.”

Smart has soft launched its 3.75G service over the past week in 21 provinces, and plans to service the remaining three – Mondulkiri, Oddar Meancheay, Preah Vihear – by the end of July.

Hundt said the company has used add-on technologies to increase the more common third-generation wireless speeds, or 3G, to 3.75G.

He claimed Smart’s internet-enabled phones can now reach download speeds of 14.4 megabits per second or higher, while uploads are as fast as 5.76 Mbps.

“What the ISPs are offering is still 256 [kilobits per second] or 512 [kilobits per second] at pretty high prices,” he said, which are much slower speeds.

Consumers would have to pay ISPs even more for the connection speeds Smart is offering, he said.

The 3.75G launch is one of many Smart initiatives since merging in January with Applifone’s Star-Cell.

According to Hundt, the integration process is largely done except for an update of the company’s 2G and 3G networks, which will be finished in July.

Hundt touted the “sizable subscriber growth” Smart has seen even during that integration, estimating his subscriber base was 1.1 million customers.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications’ figures for April showed Smart with 880,000 customers, or a 7-percent market share. But Hundt said some operators may be inflating the figures they report to the ministry. He called Metfone’s growth to 4.2 million subscribers in December 2010 from 2.8 million the month before “practically impossible”.

He also was skeptical of the MPTC reporting 12.4 million total active subscribers in Cambodia for April.

He estimated the number was between 6 million and 7 million people, given the potential for flawed reporting and consumers’ habit of using multiple SIM cards.

While the MPTC’s April report ranked Smart fifth among the Kingdom’s nine mobile operators, Hundt said his company was most likely third or fourth.

“This depends always on how good and how realistic Hello’s figures are,” he said. “We are head to head in the development of subscribers.”

Hello’s customer base in April reached 1.2 million subscribers, or 10 percent of the market, according to the MPTC report.

Hello CEO Simon Perkins rejected suggestions that his company’s subscriber numbers were inflated.

“Unlike Smart, or Metfone, or Mobitel for that matter, we are a part of a listed company, and as such are subject to independent audit, and you will see our numbers are reported in Axiata’s audited results,” he said. “So no, our numbers are not boosted as they would not pass audit.”

Still, Smart’s goal is to become “a solid number three” at least partly through organic growth, Hundt said. The company hopes to capture the 7 million potential customers he guessed don’t yet own mobile phones.
“The market is by far not saturated yet,” he said.

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