With $500M, Seatel Aims to Gain on Faster 4G Network

As part of an ambitious plan to rebrand one of Cambodia’s smallest mobile phone operators, a Hong Kong-backed telecommunications firm plans to invest $400 million over the next two to three years to construct the country’s fastest 4G network, the company’s general manager said Monday.

Singapore-registered Southeast Asia Telecom Group has already spent $100 million in the hopes of transforming its subsidiary, Southeast Asia Telecom (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. (Seatel), into a major player in Cambodia’s mobile market, according to Han Hanchou, general manager of Seatel and president of Southeast Asia Telecom Group.

Seatel's Phnom Penh office stands near the intersection of Monivong Boulevard and Street 432 in Chamkar Mon district. (Siv Channa/Cambodia Daily)
Seatel’s Phnom Penh office stands near the intersection of Monivong Boulevard and Street 432 in Chamkar Mon district. (Siv Channa/Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Hanchou said the money has gone toward the construction of a multistory office building in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district and the purchase of 5,500 km of fiber optic cables for a 4G VoLTE network in the country.

In 2013, Seatel bought out local telecommunications firm GT-TELL (Cambodia) Investment Co. Ltd., which operated under the brand Excell and holds one of the smallest market shares out of the country’s seven mobile operators with an estimated subscriber base of less than 250,000.

According to a letter obtained last week from the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia, the government body officially permitted Seatel to take over GT-TELL in June.

Mr. Hanchou said investors in Seatel include Hong Kong’s First Oriental Holdings Limited and Sun Bright International Holdings Ltd., and that an influx of cash from one investor, whom he would not name, allowed Seatel to move ahead with its plan to rebrand Excell and introduce 4G VoLTE—considered the fastest and clearest technology available for both voice and data.

“We will provide the most updated telecommunications technology and the best service in Cambodia,” he said.

Seatel’s plan, according to Mr. Hanchou, is split into three phases over the next two to three years, with a total price tag of $500 million.

Phase one, which started in August 2014 and included construction of its headquarters and the purchase of the cables, is mostly complete, he said. A testing phase and soft opening is planned for March, while an official opening is scheduled for April.

“At the end of 2015, we will start the second phase, which includes increasing capacity and coverage. Phase three will start at the end of 2016,” said Mr. Hanchou, adding that GT-TELL and Excell would be dissolved.

Mr. Hanchou said Seatel would set itself apart from other mobile operators through the power of its 4G network.

“This kind of technology has been used in the U.S. and in South Korea,” he said. “We currently are building a new network to support this technology.”

But Seatel would not be the first to bring 4G to Cambodia. Last year, the country’s second-largest mobile operator by subscribers, Smart, introduced 4G LTE, the fastest technology for data usage.

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