Monday, August 01, 2005

Cambodia embraces cell-phone craze

By Samean Yun, Rocky Mountain News
August 1, 2005

Cambodia, a developing country in Southeast Asia, illustrates how cell phones are catching on, especially with young people, thanks to new technology, competition and declining prices.

Only a small percentage of households in Cambodia have telephone land lines, partly because of high monthly fees and the lack of infrastructure throughout the country.

But today, cell phones can be found everywhere in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

Competition and the country's low incomes have forced carriers to come up with ideas such as prepaid phone cards. About 90 percent of cell-phone subscribers use prepaid phone cards, with cards available for as little as $5.

The prepaid phone card, or pay-as-you-call, has allowed even a poor motorbike taxi driver to use a cell phone. Calls cost about 3 cents per minute.

Teenagers especially have gone crazy about cell-phone technology.

New technology has driven them to buy some of the most advanced cell phones on the market, phones that can cost as much as $300 to $500.

They have stopped using black-and-white screen cell phones, opting for cell phones with color screens, built-in cameras and Internet access.

Teenagers like to use the phones to download games, video clips and music. They often change their phones when new products are introduced to the market.

It is common for teenagers to talk to their friends about the new phones rather than what they have learned in classes.

There are three major telephone companies: Mobitel-CamGSM Co. Ltd., Cambodia Samart Communication and Cambodia Shinawatra Co. Ltd.

The three companies are owned by foreign businessmen.

To draw more customers, Samart launched new phones last year that allow Cambodians to send text messages in Khmer characters.

But the local telephone companies haven't been able to provide services to satisfy all of the teenagers' demands.

The companies don't have networks that enable users to send pictures from camera phone to camera phone. Some of the most popular games also aren't supported by the carriers.

Young technology students have set up lucrative businesses to transfer music, pictures, video clips, games and even English dictionaries from computers to cell phones.

Cell phones in Cambodia have become so common that businesspeople have set up hundreds, if not thousands, of phone boxes, or booths, on the street, where people can make a phone call using a cell phone and pay according to how many minutes they talk.

Samean Yun is associate editor of The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. He is at the Rocky Mountain News this summer as part of the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships program.

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