Moeung Sonn’s pockets bulge from three mobile phones, each utilizing a competing service provider.
“It’s impossible to connect from 011 to 012,” said the director-general of Eurasie Travel’s Phnom Penh office, who purchased plans with three of Cambodia’s mobile operators for himself and his office, because of the difficulty in making calls between providers. “You call 12 times and get through one time, maybe,” he said.
Interconnection is a problem, Moeung Sonn and other business owners complain, and it’s worst when calling phones using industry leader MobiTel, provider of 012, 092 and 017 telephone numbers.
According to Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications Director-General Meas Po, Cambodia is home to 2.3 million mobile phone subscribers.
MobiTel has 1.5 million subscribers; Telekom Malaysia International Co (015, 016) has 300,000; Applifone (098) has 20,000; and Cadcomms (013) has an unknown number of subscribers, as it only opened in March. VietTel is expected to begin servicing the market in June.
Camshin (011) has 500,000 subscribers, according to the company’s general manager, Jiroj Srinamwong, although the ministry puts the figure at closer to 400,000.
When a user of one service provider makes a call to another provider, the connection is made through a switchboard at state-run Telecom Cambodia, Meas Po said in a recent interview.
To connect through Telecom Cambodia a mobile phone operator must purchase space on the switchboard. Meas Po said that Telecom Cambodia recently upgraded its system, so it now offers the ability to handle 36,000 calls at a time. But even at peak hours only 30 percent of the Telecom Cambodia switchboard’s total capacity is in use, according to TC’s Director-General Nhek Korsal Vythyea.
“We understand that there is difficulty with interconnection,” Nhek Korsal Vythyea said. “I realize that some people have to hold three or four phones…. It is not a Telecom Cambodia problem,” he added.
Having ruled out any failure in the government’s link in the mobile phone chain, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications held a forum last week between MobiTel and three competitors—Telekom Malaysia, Applifone and VietTel—who each said at the meeting that a high number of their calls to MobiTel numbers have failed over the past several months.
Telecom providers Camshin and Cadcomms were not invited to Friday’s meeting, Meas Po said, because neither reported connection problems with MobiTel.
During the meeting, Meas Po asked operators to communicate with each other, update their call capacity, check their software and resolve the poor interconnection issues.
But despite the gathering at the ministry, the cause of poor connectivity between mobile phone firms remains to be determined.
Kith Meng, CEO of the Royal Group, the parent company of MobiTel, said by telephone Sunday evening that his mobile provider is operating fine.
“I am not aware of this” problem, Kith Meng said. “As far as I am concerned, we have no problems.”
A MobiTel spokesman said Sunday that the company has improved its interconnection capacity at Telecom Cambodia.
“From our point of view, we have added as much capacity as needed,” he said.
Applifone, VietTel and Telekom Malaysia also said the problem isn’t due to their companies purchasing an inadequate amount of space on Telecom Cambodia’s switchboard.
While neither Camshin nor Cadcomms reported unique difficulty connecting to MobiTel, both said interconnectivity in general can be a challenge.
“If we increase the capacity to support traffic, then calling difficulty should no longer be there,” said Jiroj Srinamwong of Camshin. He added, “How to handle this situation is complicated.”
In a recent e-mail, Cadcomms CEO Morten Eriksen said, “We think that the market will adjust itself over time if some operators don’t play fair in the market.”