August 26, 2011

Chinese mobiles dial up big sales


A phone shop in Phnom Penh
Cambodian consumers have noted a preference for Chinese-made, imitation mobile handsets, as they offer cheap yet viable alternatives to name-brand cell phones.

The demand is coming largely from low- and middle-income Cambodians seeking functional handsets at affordable prices. As a result, these consumers have said they are choosing established brands less and less.

Chea Bun Leang, 25, working at a shop near Boeung Trabek market in Chamkarmon district, touted Chinese phones for being both inexpensive and up-to-date.

“The programes on these phones are not that different from what you get on an original Nokia. And they’re not so expensive that I can’t afford them,’’ he said.

Some Chinese-made phones sell for as little as US$10 and offer dual-SIM capability. Even the more expensive models, which imitate Apple’s popular iPhone, are significantly cheaper than their branded counterparts.

High-priced phones were simply not necessary for many Cambodians, Lin, a clothes seller at the Boeung Trabek market who asked to be identified by her first name only, said.

“The phones are usable, whether they’re expensive or not. I don’t need much because I’m either at home or selling at the market,’’ she said, adding that Cambodia’s upper classes might not share her sentiments.

Keo Tharith, general manager of TR Mobile, a cell-phone shop also near the Boeung Trabek market, noted the growing market share of Chin-ese phones thanks to their low price. That has brought mostly middle-class customers and students to his store.

“I think Chinese phones are getting more and more popular because they are so competitive with name-brand handsets,’’ he said, adding that those handsets ranged between $18 and $20 at his shop.

Nokia, however, pushed back against the idea that it was losing ground to competitors in Cambodia.

“Competition is not new for Nokia. We welcome competition from legitimate vendors who have legitimate [intellectual property] and follow the law,’’ Nokia communications manager in Cambodia Y Sokun said. “We are confident that we can tackle our competitors, as we have done in the past, by concentrating on our strengths. We have a wide range of handsets, including entry-level handsets at very competitive prices.”

Y Sokun also pointed to something Nokia can offer that the Chinese phones cannot.

“In today’s world, it’s not just about devices but services and solutions. We see ourselves as a strong challenger in mobile solutions, which is the combination of a specific service along with a device.

“Many of our competitors can’t copy this solutions focus.”

Other shop owners also said  Chinese phones might prove to be only a fad.

Still, cost seems to be the primary factor for some. Porn Soeun, a 61-year-old motorbike taxi driver working at Boeung Keng Kong market, said Chinese phones were his only option.

“I cannot afford a high-priced phone because I can make only 10,000 riel per day.”


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