August 14, 2011

Cambodia & Laos Telecommunications Report Q3 2011



There was a lack of new information with regards to the subscriber growth in Cambodia and Laos in this quarter's update. However, we have made changes to our forecast scenario for the Cambodian mobile industry after the country's telecoms regulator, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, reported that there were 12.4mn mobile subscribers at the end of 2010. Although BMI is sceptical of the data provided, as we believe that operators have a tendency to inflate subscriber figures to boost market share, we have revised our expectations upwards. We now envisage 22.167mn mobile subscribers in Cambodia by the end of 2015, up from 15.680mn in 2011. However, we believe that the exact mobile penetration in the country is significantly lower due to inactive subscriptions and multiple SIM card ownership.

Although we believe that the traditional voice service is still the preferred form of communication for Cambodian consumers, this has not prevented mobile operators from launching next generation mobile data services. Digital Star Media has announced plans to offer LTE-based mobile phone service in 2012 and is looking to provide WiMAX mobile broadband service by end-2011. Similarly, the recently merged Smart Mobile has rolled out its 3.75G network in 21 provinces, and aims to complete nationwide rollout by July. While BMI acknowledges that data services have a role to play in the long term, data are likely to remain muted in the near term due to factors such as a lack of localised content. Operators are likely to price services very competitively to drive interest, but this erodes the profitability of data services.

The Phnom Penh Post has reported that Cambodian mobile operator Mobitel has submitted the necessary documents to the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) to operate its mobile payment Cellcard Cash service. Consequently, the NBC was reported to be likely to approve the request in the near term. The NBC previously said the service would be suspended as Mobitel did not apply for a central bank oversight. This development is in line with our view that Mobitel will be able to offer its Cellcard Cash once it complies with the regulatory requirement.

Cambodia and Laos fell by one and three places respectively in BMI's latest Telecoms Business Environment Ratings for the Asia Pacific region. The decline was due to an improvement in Vietnam's Telecoms Rating score partially due to a revision in our scoring methodologies, which saw the country overtake Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Cambodia and Laos share similarities in terms of the need to tackle corruption and income equality to ensure political stability in the long term. While we see improvements in both countries' macroeconomic situation - we are seeing evidence that Cambodia's economic recovery remains on track and real GDP growth could soon return to long-term trend growth of around 6.0-7.0%, while Laos is expected to attract a record amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows this year - we remain cautious due to the prevailing global economic headwinds.



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