Nay Sopheap’s slender fingers fly across the keypad of her compact mobile phone. Phone numbers, digit codes and messages flash across the display screen as she moves from text message to text message with the ease of a practiced professional.
“For me, I always send a message,” she says. “It’s easy.”
Not just for her. The 19-year-old MobiTel employee is just one of the many customers who are increasingly becoming the targets of ad campaigns and services provided by Cambodia’s booming telecommunications business.
On Tuesday, MobiTel, the country’s leading mobile phone provider, launched three additional services to its already popular text messaging service.
Now, users like Nay Sopheap will be able to order into their phones—if they are high-tech enough—new ring tones and picture displays. And anyone with a phone that can send messages can log into chat rooms to meet people, check local calendars or talk to Cambodian celebrities.
Three help stations have been set up to give advice to new users on how to access the MobiTel system. The Caltex station on Mao Tse-tung and Monivong Boulevards, and the station on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard and Street 139 both have host booths, as does the MobiTel phone shop across from the company’s headquarters on Sihanouk Boulevard.
MobiTel, Samart, and Shinawatra—Cambodia’s three mobile phone service providers—are constantly vying for customers, expanding coverage into the provinces and adding new services to places they already cover.
Samart, for example, is planning next month to expand its services to include e-mail, not only by phone, but also at monitors in its home office near the New Market, said Somchai Lertwiset-Theerakul, Samart chief executive officer.
The more services and coverage, the closer Cambodia and its neighbors come to embracing the information age. All 10 Asean nations signed an agreement in November 2000 to make concerted efforts “to plug Asean into the global networked economy,” said Pan Sorasak, an undersecretary of state for the Council of Ministers. The Asean Framework Agreement calls for all Asean nations to establish the proper infrastructure and human resources to deal with the information age, Pan Sorasak said in a paper he presented recently to businessmen and government officials at a globalization conference.
With the development of more technology capable of handling services like text messaging, chat rooms and e-mail over a mobile phone, Cambodia is coming close to “the Asean level,” said Kith Meng, chairman of the Royal Group, which owns MobiTel.
And, although Cambodia is well behind Asean neighbors like Singapore and Thailand, where mobile phones are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life for city dwellers, Cambodia is still ahead of countries like Burma, Laos and Vietnam.
Compared to those countries, Kith Meng said, “we are quite really advanced.”
The telecommunications sector, with steady growth spurts, also has experienced some growing pains. Weak laws governing the sector have led to trouble for companies, including MobiTel, in the past. MobiTel announced earlier this year that it would provide a new form of Internet connection through satellites.
But the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and National Assembly lawmaker Son Chhay quickly pounced on “TeleSurf,” saying the company did not have the proper licenses.
After three months of negotiations, all disputes have been resolved, Kith Meng said, and TeleSurf is up and running.
So Khun, minister of Posts and Telecommunications, could not be reached for comment on the TeleSurf dispute.
Meanwhile, MobiTel is targeting the younger generation—students and young professionals. MobiTel launched its first text messaging service last year, which took off and provided more customers for the company, Kith Meng said.
Students and young professionals keep coming to find out more about the service, said Phay Somay, 22, manning a booth at the Mao Tse-tung Caltex.
It’s “fast and easy” he says, and at $.04 per daytime message, and half that between 8 pm and 8 am, “it’s cheap.”