Mobitel Eyes BigPond’s Hold on Internet

Mobitel plans to break into the fast-growing Internet service market in Cambodia, threatening Telstra’s BigPond, the country’s largest Internet service provider, and the Telecommunications Ministry’s state-run CamNet.

David Spriggs, Mobitel’s general manager, said Wednesday his company would launch its new service soon, despite Big­Pond’s license as the sole private-sector Internet provider through Feb­ruary 2002.

“It will be exciting,” Spriggs said, declining to elaborate. He did say, however, the launch will “hopefully happen well before February 2002.”

Australia-based Telstra re­ceived an Internet service pro­vider license in February 1997, to which Telstra’s BigPond maintains the exclusive rights for five years, according to the Tele­communications Ministry and Telstra officials.

In exchange for the five-year exclusive rights, BigPond is sharing an undisclosed percentage of the revenue with the ministry as part of the license fee, officials said.

“If the ministry is giving a new license to another, it means they are breaking the contract,” said Paul Blanche-Horgan, Telstra’s coun­try manager. “We will re­mind the ministry of it.”

Ministry officials said the ministry has not received a formal application from Mobitel for an Internet license, though rumors of Mobitel’s plan to move into on-line services have been circulating for several months.

“We have heard of the ru­mor….But we have not gotten any application from Mobitel,” said a senior ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anon­ymity. “[If it happens,] we will have some problems because we have a contractual arrangement with BigPond not allowing other ISPs un­til 2002.”

Another ministry official predicted Mobitel would not receive a license until both the Internet market and the telecommunications infrastructure in Cambodia are better developed.

“Nothing is decided about Mob­itel,” said Lar Narath, an undersecretary of state at the ministry. “Our Internet market is still small….We have to protect the market. And [issuing a li­cense to others] depends on how fast we can develop infrastructure.”

State-run CamNet was first launched in May 1997 with technical support from Canada, a month before BigPond joined the market.

Telecommunications ex­perts say growth of the Internet market here is impressive, with an increasing number of Internet cafes in Phnom Penh.

Nearly 4,000 users have their own accounts for the Internet with either BigPond or CamNet. In addition to those Internet ac­count holders, there are numerous e-mail-only users in Cambodia.

“The quantity of Internet users is higher than we predicted,” said Bill Herod, Web-site developer with the Khmer Internet Dev­elopment Services. “I understand private businesses think Cam­bodia’s market is viable.”

It is still unclear when Mobitel would launch the new Internet services, but experts welcome the possible new addition.

“Hopefully it will happen soon because it would bring prices down,” Herod said.

Although prices for Internet access to both CamNet and Big­Pond gradually have de­creased from about $10 per hour in 1997 to less than $3 per hour now, it should go much cheaper to allow wider access, Herod said.

Telstra recently pulled out of Cambodia’s international tele­communications gateway business, completing its 10-year contract with the ministry. It has invested nearly $30 million for international phone services and another $500,000 Internet services.

After Telstra’s contract expired, Mobitel launched its own international phone gateway, Tele2, in November.



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