Smart Axiata’s CEO, Thomas Hundt, talks to B2B about the evolving roles of telecommunication companies and the need to stay relevant and attuned to market needs.
B2B: What do you think is the significance of the MCT submarine cable and how will it affect the communications industry?
Hundt: Having the Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand (MCT) submarine cable linking the three countries is indeed a plus point to our country, and the entire communication industry. In the new era of connectivity, this cable system will allow corporate and service providers to have access to faster speed with better costing. Therefore, this will allow Cambodians to enhance their Internet surfing experience with faster speed at cheaper costs.
B2B: What impact has 4G coverage had on Cambodia?
Hundt: Being the first and only telecom company to have launched real 4G LTE, Smart has made it possible for our customers to enjoy surfing the fastest mobile Internet in Cambodia, at the lowest charges. Nowhere else in the world can customers get 1GB, even more data, for only $1USD, a game changer to the Internet landscape in Cambodia. Understanding the high growth of smartphones coming into the market, Smart has made its 4G LTE available in all 25 provinces. Alongside the underlying 2G/3.75G network, Smart enables every single customer and business to stay connected literally everywhere in the Kingdom.
B2B: How is Smart currently investing in Cambodia, both to ensure better service and to remain competitive?
Hundt: Telecommunication is a technology driven-business, so investing in latest technology is exactly what Smart does and what our consumers expect. We made $60 million worth of investments in 2014 alone, and this year we spent at least $55 million to make sure Smart’s network stays in the leading position. Our 3G network coverage stretches out even into highly remote areas, and Smart’s 4G LTE is already available in all 25 provinces. Certainly, Smart and its shareholders are committed to continue the investment spree to serve our customers even better.
B2B: How have the roles of telecommunication companies in Cambodia evolved over the last few years?
Hundt: We see ourselves beyond being just a mere communication provider. Smart has been involved actively in national and social building initiatives. In 2014 alone, we contributed 1.5% to the national GDP and supported more than 66,000 incomes. In Cambodia, besides being one of the largest telecom providers, covering 98% of the population and offering the fastest mobile Internet, we are the largest life insurance provider, covering more than 80,000 Cambodian families with life insurance at only 4 cents per day. Plus, we are contributing back to the society through innovative CSR projects, such as the National Literacy Campaign 2015, in cooperation with UNESCO and the Ministry of Education.
B2B: How does Smart utilise the increased potential for communications granted by the ongoing technological advancements and widespread use of smartphones in Cambodia?
Hundt: High performing smartphones and advanced networks are the perfect combination in this environment for technological symbiosis. Better smartphones will require more advanced networks such as 4G LTE to drive their applications toward peak performance. Smart, as Apple’s only official telecom partner in Cambodia, is able to bring world-class devices such as the iPhone and iPad to our customers. This compliments our 4G technology, which enables our customers to enjoy this perfect technology combination. As Cambodia moves towards the connected world, we are ready and will grow along with the technology evolution as it happens globally, as well as in line with the demand from the market.
B2B: What strategies does Smart implement in order to stay relevant and in tuned with their target audience?
Hundt: We are going beyond just providing the best pricing by also offering the best technology and a great customer experience. We are a very customer-centric company: we listen to our customers and provide them the right packages. There is the Super40 tariff for those who like talking a lot, Smart Laor for those who talk and browse the web, Xtralong for those who require a long validity and Smart Xchange which gives everyone the best value for money, and maximum airtime. We also have the iPhone, which Smart offers as Apple’s one and only telecom partner in Cambodia. Plus with 4G LTE, we have the fastest mobile Internet in Cambodia, one step ahead of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. As a pioneering technology company, our customers are able to enjoy Smart Music App (the first music streaming app in Cambodia), Smart Life Insurance, and world-class entertainment through our exclusive and strategic partnership with Universal Music.
B2B: What advice would you give to someone planning to open a business in the communications industry in Cambodia?
Hundt: The telecommunications industry evolves very quickly and continuously requires massive investments. it is very different from real estate or power generation business where you invest once and then enjoy a hassle-free income over decades.
Moreover, the Cambodian telecom market is very competitive, while at the same time the addressable market with a population of 15 million is very limited. We have healthy competition, having led to the world’s lowest rates as well as a comparably well-developed network infrastructure. In terms of telecommunication, Cambodia doesn’t need to be shy comparing itself with first world economies.
In short, neither the Cambodian market nor the consumers need a new entrant. Instead, further consolidation is desirable to allow the industry to shoulder the significant investments to come.