July 19, 2011

Mfone's pricing plan draws controversy


MOBILE service provider Mfone has launched the Kingdom’s latest unlimited calling plan, drawing criticism that it contravenes minimum pricing rules introduced by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in a 2009 prakas.

Mfone customers must top up in US$5 increments, with $3 for unlimited on-network calls for a month, while the remaining $2 applies to off-net calls, company employees at its headquarters on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard told The Post yesterday.

The plan mirrors one introduced by rival provider Hello earlier this year, which had drawn criticism from industry players.

However, Hello Chief Executive Officer Simon Perkins said yesterday the fact that Mfone is now offering its own unlimited calling plan is “the best form of flattery.”

“They’ve copied exactly what we’ve done,” he said, though he noted some of the pricing details were different.

Perkins also pointed out that Hello offered more variety in its plans, including unlimited calling per day for 20 cents and unlimited calling between 10pm and 10am for $1.

The 20-cent plan has been “extremely popular, and people drop in and out of them when it suits their purposes,” he said. The overnight plan is largely “teenagers talking to boyfriends and girlfriends all night.”

Mfone Chief Marketing Officer Sombat Krairit did not return a request for comment by The Post yesterday, though it is believed the firm’s unlimited plan has not yet been widely advertised.

The plan attracted controversy yesterday, with some industry insiders calling the move a violation of the ministry’s 2009 pricing rules, which set a minimum price per minute for on- and off-net calls.

“Mfone have elected to follow other operators offering such deals who also contravene the regulations, and this is having a detrimental impact on the whole industry, and especially those operators trying to work within the bounds of MPTC’s framework of rules overall,” said qb Chief Executive Officer Alan Sinfield.

“Such actions are, in my opinion, desperate and short-sighted and not at all welcome,” he said yesterday. Qb had halted its so-called “all you can eat” plans when the minimum pricing prakas was enacted, he added.

Sinfield said the MPTC should use its powers to suspend certain operators’ licences if they refuse to abide by established regulations.

“I sincerely hope that MPTC take such action for the benefit of the industry as a whole.”

Some telecom officials last month said the increased usage as a result of unlimited plans often hurts network capacity. Low tariffs also likely translate into negative returns in the effort to attract customers, despite the need for profitability in order to invest in new services and coverage expansion.

Industry insiders requesting anonymity said yesterday a number of the Kingdom’s operators are in talks with the MPTC to find ways to enforce the pricing prakas. They said one such discussion consisted of some operators blocking calls from the offending companies. However, discussions are in preliminary stages and any action would be strictly monitored by the MPTC, insiders said.

Minister of Post and Telecommunications So Khun declined to comment yesterday.

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