In three years the number of Internet service providers in Cambodia has increased from five to 11, and they’re all competing to service the country’s 25,000 Internet subscribers and attract new users.
TeleSurf, Online, Camintel and Camnet are Cambodia’s oldest ISPs. WirelessIP, Angkor Net, Cambodian Broadband Technologies Co, WiCam, City Link, Camshin and Phnom Penh Municipal Cable TV have all been founded within the last four years.
There are 24,950 Internet subscribers, according to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications: 8,450 use broadband; 7,500 use dial-up; 7,000 use DSL; and 2,000 use wireless. These subscribers include homes, businesses and 266 licensed Internet cafes. Cambodia’s Yellow Pages, however, lists 345 Internet cafes.
Measuring the actual number of Internet users in Cambodia is more difficult.
According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, one million people use the Internet regularly, an estimate backed by Norbert Klein, co-founder of Open Forum, which became the first Internet provider in Cambodia when it started up in 1994.
“It’s not a large market,” the CEO of WirelessIP, Khan Angkeabot, said last week from his office on Street 51 in Phnom Penh.
“Everyone is fighting for the customers,” Khan Angkeabot said.
“For now, everything is difficult.”
Khan Angkeabot’s WirelessIP services about 200 subscribers. After graduating with a dual degree in information technology and business administration, Khan Angkeabot worked at Camintel for four years until, in 2006, seeing a demand for wireless services, the 26-year-old quit Camintel and invested upwards of $1 million in WirelessIP.
In 2006 the company lost money; in 2007 it broke even; this year, Khan Angkeabot said he hopes to count profits.
The trend rings familiar to Wicam founder Ngeth Chanthol, 48, who said Tuesday from his Phnom Penh office that Wicam lost money in 2005 and 2006, and first broke even last year.
Ngeth Chanthol commutes several times a year to his office on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard from Los Angeles, which he has called home since 1983. In 2005, he returned to Cambodia to open Wicam and he said he finds himself spending more months in Cambodia every year.
“Next month I go back to [Los Angeles] do my income tax,” he said.
Today, Wicam and WirelessIP both face stiff competition from bigger providers like Online and from Internet cafes, which are relatively cheap. Whereas WirelessIP counts 200 customers and WiCam 300, Online services about 5,000, according to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
Internet use and awareness by Cambodian businesses is burgeoning, said Thin Kuntheary, general manager of KhmerWeb.
KhmerWeb started as an Internet cafe near Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument in 1997, when the country first connected to the World Wide Web via satellite. In 2003, KhmerWeb closed the cafe to become solely a Web page designer.
“Previously, a lot of people did not know how to use [the Internet]…. This year we have more customers. They want to broadcast their Web site to let other people know about their business,” she said, pulling up Web page Sokimex’s on her computer.
In the past decade, KhmerWeb expanded from five to 19 employees and the company has watched its customer base change from mostly foreigners to primarily Cambodians.
Now located on Street 51 in Phnom Penh, KhmerWeb has designed more than 140 Web sites, most for Cambodian companies, including Sokimex.
Who actually sees the Web sites created by KhmerWeb is another question, as relatively high connection costs send most to Internet cafes.
“The problem is the price,” Angkeabot said.
Ngeth Chanthol agreed: “I think Cambodia might be the most expensive place in the world for Internet.”
As an example, Ngeth Chanthol cited a plan currently offered in the continental US, from telecommunication’s giant AT&T, for unlimited downloads at a speed of 3MBPS for $30 per month. Wicam’s highest-end plan for Cambodia maxes out at 2MBPS and costs $7,000 a month.
For now, only the slowest Internet connections are affordable to most Cambodians. And even though Wicam is suffering for customers, Ngeth Chanthol said that competition from more Internet providers will cut prices more for customers.
Earlier this month, US telecommunications firm 3P Networks announced it had negotiated with the Cambodian government to offer broadband Internet.
Cambodia’s 11 ISPs connect to the Internet in three ways: via expensive satellite connections, via government-owned Camnet’s fiber optic line, or via Vietnamese-owned Viettel Telecom’s fiber optic line.
Camnet’s fiber optic line, which opened in 1999, stretches from Thailand to Vietnam, and an extension is underway to connect it to Stung Treng province. Viettel’s own fiber optic line loops from the Vietnamese border to Phnom Penh.
Already, prices are falling. Since 2005, Ngeth Chanthol said that 1 MBPS of bandwidth from Camnet has dropped from $6,000 a month to $2,000 a month.
Khan Angkeabot hopes that his company’s forthcoming Xpress card, which will allow a laptop to access the Internet from anywhere in Phnom Penh, can keep WirelessIP in close competition with other providers.
Likewise, Ngeth Chanthol is trying to make all of Phnom Penh a hotspot for Wicam’s wireless services.
“The next three to five years, with the young generation and everybody speaking English, they will go to the Internet,” he said.
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