Disputed Data Shows Metfone has most subscribers

Metfone, the mobile telephone service provider owned by the Vietnamese military, reported having so many subscribers in November that it displaced MobiTel as the market leader in terms of customers, according to Ministry of Post and Telecommunications data.

The data were criticized within the sector as being inaccurate.

Metfone has 2.84 million or 33 percent of Cambodia’s supposed 8.58 million subscribers, compared to MobiTel, which has about 2.73 million, according to data collected by the MPTC. The subscriber data are compiled from information provided by individual companies.

MobiTel CEO David Spriggs declined to comment yesterday, while officials at Viettel, which owns Metfone, could not be reached.

While several rivals of the leading companies said they believed the subscriber data were somewhat inaccurate, they also said the figures represent the aggressiveness of Metfone, which only entered the market in February 2009.

Simon Perkins, CEO of Hello Network, which is listed third on the list with about 870,000 subscribers, said MobiTel was likely to still be on top in terms of profitability, while Metfone’s growth came from aggressive promotions that offered free minutes and SIM cards.

“Metfone is giving away a lot of freebies to get new customers, so there is not revenue,” he said.

Viettel could continue to rise in terms of coverage and active customers, but MobiTel will likely be more profitable as it has marketed toward more affluent people in the city, while Metfone has been more active in the provinces, he said.

According to the numbers, Metfone’s subscribers jumped 48 percent from 1.92 million in June.

Alan Sinfield, CEO of qb network, said the total figure of 8.58 million subscribers in Cambodia was unrealistic, even when considering people with multiple phone numbers.

“I could believe there might have been 8.5 million SIM cards at some point, but I don’t think there are 8.5 million subscribers,” said Mr Sinfield, whose company is listed eighth in subscribers with 80,000 subscribers in November.

He said it was unclear what standards other companies use, but his company only counts customers active within the past 90 days. He said some companies could be including customers active at some point in the past, but who no longer use their old SIM cards.

Sieng Sithy, deputy director of the directorate of telecommunications policy regulation, said the ministry does not require companies to follow certain standards in calculating their subscriber numbers, and the ministry had no way of verifying the company-provided data.

“It is hard to say it is accurate or not. If they cheat us, how do we know?” he asked.

The apparent change in market leadership has comes at a time of transition in the industry. Two companies, Star-Cell and SmartMobile, announced last week that they would merge, while qb has said it is interested in acquiring another companies’ infrastructure and subscribers.

MobiTel is also in final negotiations with the telecommunications giant France Telecom, which plans to buy a stake.

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