Cambodia’s leading mobile phone company has been issued a license to become one of the country’s few Internet service providers.
The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has granted an ISP license to MobiTel, overturning a contract with Australian company Telstra’s BigPond to be the sole private provider through February 2002.
MobiTel had already been offering wireless Internet access through its TeleSurf connection.
Because they didn’t offer a porthole, Web site hosting or e-mail, MobiTel executives said it wasn’t an ISP. It did not require a license, they said, despite concerns from observers—and BigPond—that there was virtually no difference between TeleSurf and an ISP requiring a license.
Under its new license, agreed upon by Telstra, MobiTel will be able to do all the things offered now by both BigPond and the state-run CamNet, said Kith Meng, head of the Royal Group, which owns MobiTel.
The negotiations were enough to satisfy not only the government, but also BigPond.
BigPond country manager Paul Blanche-Horgan said it was “good to see” MobiTel granted a license. “It’s good for everyone,” he said. “Especially the customer.”
BigPond has been the only Internet provider in Cambodia besides CamNet since 1997, and was to remain so until February.
Other than saying BigPond required that the government guarantee certain regulations and “an equal playing field for all ISPs,” Blanche-Horgan declined to comment on negotiation points.
Koy Kim Sea, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said one of the points had been a reduction in the revenue sharing agreement between the government and Telstra.
Lam Pou An, secretary of state for the ministry, said BigPond will now have to give 20 percent of its revenues to the government in exchange for the license. The same percentage agreement applies to MobiTel.
Lam Pou An would not disclose the revenue sharing percentage of BigPond’s original deal.
MobiTel will also have to use the Telecommunication Ministry’s international gateway satellite, Lam Pou An said. “They cannot use their own satellite,” he said.
The addition of another service provider will only help Cambodia, said Bill Herod, an information technology consultant at Khmer Internet Development Services.
“It’s better for Cambodia, because it brings the cost of the Internet way down,” he said. Places like schools and local NGOs will be able to access the Internet via MobiTel’s TeleSurf connection even if they don’t have a phone, he said. And, he added, “it’s a permanent, 24-hour connection.”
TeleSurf does not require a phone line for a connection, unlike the current providers in Cambodia. Instead, users have an antenna installed in their home that relays broadband signals of information to a relay satellite.
Those signals are then beamed via satellite to a Hong Kong Internet service provider, Herod said.
A broadband signal allows more information to travel faster through the airwaves than a phone line, making Internet connections much faster.
Just how much faster depends on a subscriber’s monthly service plan. According to the TeleSurf Web site, the most basic service would cost $30 per month for equipment that would carry 64 kilobytes of information per second, which is about the same as a phone line connection now.
Cost also depends on the amount of information exchanged between the user and the service provider. The lowest price, for 100 megabytes of information per month, is $20.
“We are looking to reduce the price,” Kith Meng said.
The new ISP porthole, called “everyday.com,” can be used through either a phone line or TeleSurf, he said.