With a ninth mobile telephone operator expected to join the fray next month, the total number of mobile telephone subscribers in Cambodia rose by 18.2 percent to 12.41 million during the first four months of the year, according to Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications data.
But the accuracy of the data was heavily contested by those in the sector, who say that a large proportion of subscribers included in the data come from issued SIM cards that are now inactive.
The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, however, said that the figures were realistic and that the government performed checks into their accuracy.
The biggest rise of subscribers during the four-month period came from Metfone, which is owned by Viettel, a firm belonging to the Vietnamese military. According to the data, Metfone’s subscriber base has risen from 4.22 million in December to 5.74 million at the end of April, bringing its current market share 46 percent.
MobiTel, which is owned by Cambodian conglomerate The Royal Group saw subscribers rise from 2.71 million in December to 2.9 million at the end of April, giving it 23 percent of the market share. Hello, which is owned by Malaysia’s Axiata Group Berhad, is the third-largest operator with 10 percent of the market and 1.18 million subscribers, a rise of 29.7 percent.
Still, industry executives said there was little reason to believe there are so many mobile phone users in the country.
First, there is a lack of regulation from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications directing companies to report accurate subscriber levels, they said. And second, with such a high number of companies fighting it out for a relatively small market, companies looking to sell are purposely inflating subscriber numbers in order to increase the value of their company.
“Of course it would be good for transparency if the figures were reported more accurately,” said Thomas Hundt, CEO of Smart Mobile, which is owned by the Cyprus-based Timeturns Holdings Ltd and merged last year with Star-Cell, a Swedish mobile phone provider owned by TeliaSonera Group. “Otherwise anyone can report anything.”
Mr Hundt said that Smart Mobile determined a subscriber for all SIM cards used within a time period of three months. MobiTel applied even more stringent rules by only counting SIM cards used within a one-month timeframe. Overall, Mr Hundt estimated that the official government figure for mobile telephone subscribers were inflated by up to 60 percent.
The government’s figure, if taken literally, produces some staggering statistics. Metfone went from having 2.37 million subscribers at the end of October to having 5.74 million at the end of April, an increase of 142.2 percent.
Most other companies in the sector reported more modest gains in subscriber numbers, pointing toward the possibility that Metfone alone is largely responsible for the inflated figures.
Telecommunications Minister So Khun yesterday stood by the figures and said that the ministry had set up a working group to assess the figures for accuracy.
“If they lie to us the working group will write a letter and we will know,” he said without elaborating on how the government performs checks on subscriber figures.
He added that with more than 85 percent of the country now having mobile telephone coverage and operators like Metfone having nearly 16,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable laid out across the country, there was no reason not to believe Metfone’s figures.
Frank May, chief operating officer of Emaxx Telecom, which plans to launch in June, said that to gauge the most competitive companies in the market, his company had looked at revenues in the sector rather than figures supplied by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
“We completely discounted the figures being quoted by the MPTC,” he said. “The figures that are constantly being thrusted at MPTC do not have any audit on the actual number of physical users.”
Mr May said that there were roughly 19 million SIM cards in Cambodia, a country with only 14 million people.