Cambodia leads in mobile but lags in fixed broadband

: Among 14 emerging market and developing economies in East Asia and the Pacific, Cambodia ranks sixth in terms of access to mobile-broadband services, the World Bank says.

In its economic update for the region released ahead of the bank's annual meeting in Morocco this week, Cambodia was found to have an estimated 106 active mobile-broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants.

That put the Kingdom just behind top-ranked Malaysia (125), Mongolia (116), Indonesia (115), (112) and Myanmar (110).

Countries with more limited access to mobile broadband than Cambodia were China (102), Vietnam (88), Fiji (76), the Philippines (62), Laos (56), Timor-Leste (30), the Solomon Islands (18), and Papua New Guinea (11).

But in terms of access to fixed-broadband services — as measured by household penetration — Cambodia was near the bottom of the group, ranking tenth out of the 14 countries.

The bank said fixed broadband was reaching 10 percent of Cambodian households — above only Myanmar (8 percent) and the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste (1 percent).

China had the highest penetration for fixed broadband at 113 percent followed by Vietnam (76 percent), Thailand (58 percent), Mongolia (52 percent), Malaysia (50 percent), Fiji (44 percent), the Philippines (33 percent), Indonesia (18 percent) and Laos (12 percent).

Such discrepancies between mobile and fixed access highlight a need for states to complement private firms in “creating the infrastructure and skills needed to take advantage of the opportunities that are emerging,” the World Bank said.

BRIDGING GAPS IN ACCESS FOR POOR AND REMOTE COMMUNITIES

The bank said increased access to mobile networks provided by competing private firms in recent years “seemed to have obviated the need for the fixed line networks created by plodding public sector monopolies.”

“But the digital benefits of access to high-speed broadband have revived the question of how the state can ensure adequate access for the poor and remote.”

“Competitively allocated subsidies to private providers may help bridge the gaps, as the experience with universal access funds for basic telecommunications shows.”

“Countries must also wrestle with the question of how far the market and private institutions can be relied on to deliver the skills needed by the digital services economy.”

In addition, the bank said, countries need to determine the role of the state “in ensuring the appropriate educational scale, composition, quality, and access.”

RELATIVELY SLOW DOWNLOAD SPEEDS

Irrespective of mobile or fixed broadband services, the bank found that Cambodia ranked relatively low on both counts in terms of download speeds.

For mobile services, China had the fastest median download speed of 95 megabits per second (Mbps). Three countries were a distant second — Malaysia (49 Mbps), Vietnam (48 Mbps), and Thailand (41 Mbps).

Next came Laos (30 Mbps) followed by the Philippines (26 Mbps), Cambodia and Indonesia (both 24 Mbps), Myanmar (23 Mbps), Fiji (22 Mbps), Mongolia (15 Mbps), and Papua New Guinea (20 Mbps). Median speeds for the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste weren't available

For fixed-broadband, the fastest median download speeds were in Thailand (211 Mbps) and China (194 Mbps). Next came Malaysia (96 Mbps), Vietnam (94 Mbps), and the Philippines (92 Mbps)

Slower speeds were found in Mongolia (57 Mbps), Laos (32 Mbps), Indonesia (27 Mbps), Cambodia (22 Mbps), Myanmar (19 Mbps), Fiji 15 (Mbps), Papua New Guinea (16 Mbps) and Timor-Leste (6 Mbps). Solomon Islands data was again not available.

RELATIVELY HIGH COSTS

The World Bank found mobile broadband costs were cheapest in China and Vietnam, representing 0.5 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita in both countries.

Indonesia was the next cheapest (0.9 percent) followed by Malaysia (1.0 percent), Thailand (1.4 percent), Myanmar (1.7 percent), Mongolia (1.9 percent), the Philippines (2.0 percent), Cambodia (2.4 percent), Laos (2.7 percent), Fiji (3.0 percent and Timor-Leste (4.6 percent).

The most exorbitant rates were in the Solomon Islands (8.9 percent) and Papua New Guinea (18.8 percent).

For fixed broadband prices, China was in a league of its own at 0.5 percent of GNI per capita — the same as for mobile broadband.

Its nearest competitor was Mongolia, although, at 1.9 percent of GNI per capita, it was almost four times more expensive than China.

Next came Malaysia (2.3 percent), Vietnam and Thailand (both 3.5 percent) Fiji (4.7 percent), Indonesia (7.6 percent), and Laos (9.0 percent).

Prices elsewhere were at least 20 times more expensive than those in China with the Philippines at 11.6 percent of GNI per capita followed by Cambodia (12.1 percent), Myanmar (12.4 percent), Papua New Guinea (13.4 percent) Timor-Leste (32.1 percent) and the Solomon Islands (47.4 percent).

MARKET RESTRICTIONS AND DISTORTIONS

In addition to urging governments to see how they can complement the private sector to improve infrastructure for poor and remote communities, the World Bank had two other recommendations.

One was for governments in the East Asia and Pacific region to pursue both liberalization and regulation in the services sector.

“Service trade liberalization is still unfinished business,” the bank said. Despite past reforms, East Asia and Pacific countries “are still characterized by relatively restrictive regimes for services.”

The bank urged governments to address such restrictions on entry and competition, ranging from “discretionary and opaque” licensing to limits on foreign ownership.

At the same time, regulatory frameworks are needed to address old and new market distortions including concentration and data misuse.

The bank said such distortions can arise where digital platforms dominate “for which there is already some evidence” in East Asia and the Pacific.

CAMBODIA AMONG HANDFUL OF COUNTRIES WITH OPEN APPROACH TO CROSS-BORDER DATA FLOWS

The third policy prescription is to address cross-border market failures.

For example, the bank said, governments need to ensure that data flows central to the global services economy are not impeded by different regulatory approaches to privacy and cybersecurity.

Cambodia has one of the freest approaches to cross-border data flows among emerging markets and developing economies in the region — along with Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

The “open transfer” approach of these economies is the same as advanced countries in the region like Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore.

By contrast, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have “conditional transfer” approaches — like Japan and South Korea — while China and Vietnam have “limited transfer” approaches.

Despite the different ways of dealing with cross-border data flows, “countries are beginning to cooperate meaningfully in both regional and multilateral fora,” the bank said.

The World Bank's sources for the regional broadband data included the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union and TeleGeography, a market research and consulting firm based in Washington. AKP

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