Mobitel Starts Controversial Internet Link

Mobitel, Cambodia’s leading telecommunications company, has launched a wireless Internet access service, joining the market dominated by Telstra’s BigPond and the state-run CamNet.

TeleSurf, launched last Thurs­day, is a wireless broadband network that connects users to the Internet without a telephone hookup or a modem.

The network could provide around-the-clock Internet access that is cheaper and more reliable than services available now, said David Spriggs, Mobitel’s general manager.

While Internet users may welcome the high speed access—potentially more than 20 times faster than a phone connection—competitors say Mobitel is violating telecommunications regulations by launching the service without a specialized license.

“If they provide an Internet access, they certainly need to get a license [from the Telecom­munications Ministry] for it,” said Paul Blanche-Horgan, country director of the Australian-based Telstra.

In addition, he said, Mobitel’s TeleSurf appears to violate Telstra’s 1997 contract with the Telecommunications Ministry, which designates BigPond as the sole private Internet service provider until February 2002. Both BigPond and CamNet began offering Internet services in 1997.

“We have a license that gives us an exclusive right to operate Internet services, along with CamNet,” Blanche-Horgan. “I’m very surprised to see [Mobitel’s new service.]”

Spriggs said a ministry license as an Internet service provider is unnecessary for Mobitel because TeleSurf merely offers Internet access.

“We just provides a connection,” he said.

Spriggs said Mobitel’s CamGS frequency license for mobile phone services covers the wireless connection.

A senior Telecommunications Ministry official said the ministry has not yet issued an Internet service license to Mobitel, though negotiations between the two have been going on for sometime.

“They need to get a license to provide Internet services,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “[But] if it’s providing only links to the Internet, it’s not violating the regulations.”

Telecommunications experts say the licensing issue is “arguable.”

Bill Herod, of Khmer Internet Development Services, said TeleSurf is not a full Internet service provider because it doesn’t offer Web-hosting services, including e-mail. He said a licensed Internet provider, like BigPond or CamNet, usually has its own Web server, which stores data of Web sites, and its own e-mail services.

“It’s a very thin distinction,” Herod said.

TeleSurf provides two-way data transmission at speeds of up to 1 MB per second, about 20 times faster than a modem. Using an antenna hooked up on the roof, data is transmitted from a computer to a base station in Phnom Penh. The system can be plugged into a personal computer as well as office computer networks, he added.

Prices for the Internet access vary from $70 per month to $3,100 per month, depending on speeds and volume. The $70 package allows users to transmit up to 100 MB of data a month—about 2,000 e-mails— with speeds of 64 KB per second, twice as fast as most phone connections, Spriggs said.

By comparison, he said, CamNet’s round-the-clock Internet connection, which offers 64 KB per second, costs $1,500 per month. For regular Internet connections, both BigPond and CamNet charge about $3-4 per hour on-line.

Herod said TeleSurf will help provide Cambodians with cheaper, easier Internet connections.

“It’s a very welcome addition,” he said, adding that the new service could drive down prices in Internet cafes.

The wireless connection is currently available only in Phnom Penh; there are plans to expand service to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville by the end of April.


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