For the past few weeks, customers of two mobile phone companies have been able to call each other without paying extra fees.
Camshin-Shinawatra, which uses the 011 prefix, and CamTel, which uses 018, have agreed to drop the fees one mobile phone company charges another to handle cross-network calls.
At issue are “interconnection charges” imposed by the Ministry of Telecommunications on the four companies which serve an estimated 100,000 mobile phone customers in Cambodia.
Each time a mobile phone customer calls a mobile customer with another company, the company initiating the call pays a fee to the company that receives it.
The fees for cross-network calls are set by the ministry. Currently, the charge for a cross-network call is an extra 5 cents per minute, which mobile phone companies have been passing along to their customers.
Camshin-Shinawatra and CamTel noticed that, on average, they were charging each other for about the same number of calls. Rather than continue trading similar sums back and forth, they decided to try dropping the charges entirely.
“This is a friendly cooperation between two operators,” said Visit Rakvistwong, country director for CamTel. Absorbing the charges lets them cut administration costs and charge their customers less, he said.
Such cross-network calls now are being billed according to a tariff rate established for calls within the same network. Under the new agreement, CamTel customers, for example, are saving an average of 20 percent on each call made to the Shinawatra network, Rakvistwong said.
The mobile phone companies say the existing system of cross-network fees does not work well, because there is no way to check if calling records are accurate. For example, an unscrupulous company could make up calls or exaggerate how long calls lasted.
Trairat Kaewkerd, Shinawatra’s general manager, said that in April his company was charged for nearly 50,000 calls from other networks he finds questionable.
He said that it is not fair to charge cross-network fees if the calls cannot be verified. He would rather switch to a “roaming’’ system, in which companies make private deals with each other rather than relying on government’s regulations.
The deal between CamTel and Shinawatra is a step toward such a system. “We’re happy to expand [this kind of cooperation] to other networks,” Kaewkerd said. “It would be more fair to both operators and customers.”
Ministry officials say the agreement between the companies does not violate regulations and other companies are free to follow suit.
“If [phone] traffic is balanced between operators, it might work well,” said Koy Kim Sea, the ministry’s undersecretary of state.
According to the ministry, the two companies, both of which are partially owned by Thai telecommunication companies, share only a small portion of the mobile phone market.
The ministry collects fees on calls made from mobile phones to land lines. Those fees are not affected by the agreement between CamTel and Shinawatra.