March 24th, 2006

Impression of Cambodia

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First, let me congratulate Boon Leong who has successful setup Resolvo office in Cambodia. It is incredible to have a local partner who can with a phone call get the folks from the company registry to come to your office to register the company, bank clerk to turn up at your office to setup your bank account. And any business partners you want to meet all at a phone call away. (And they say “guanxi” is a Chinese thing ;)

I also have to change my perspective of Cambodia…before I come over, I heard stories about how lawless Cambodia is with guns and stuff. If those were true a couple of years ago, it certainly wasn’t today.

Anyway, this is an exploratory trip for me. Getting accurate data is probably the most difficult so I better record what I found before I forgot them.

1. The average salary for people in the city is 300-400 USD/mth. Yet, you will find people driving the newest 4wheel drives, lexuses and using the latests models of mobile phones. Some may jump into conclusion about corruption until you realized this is a huge segement of middle class. This is puzzling to me until someone explained two things to me (a) while corruptions may occurs at the top, the money stays within Cambodia and thus spur the economy growth (b) many people also do part-time business or hold multiple jobs but only declare one income. This is why officially, the GDP per capital for Cambodia is only 300 USD but the purchasing power per capital is 2300 USD. Go figure!

2. I nearly bursted out laughing when a director at Mobitel I met this morning used the word “incumbent” to refer to the only fixed line operator. There are 20,000 fixed line users but Mobitel alone has 800k (out of 1.3M) mobile phone users.

3. PC pentration is estimated to be at 300k out of 14M population. Not too shabby but lots of room for growth. The sweet spot for CPE (including computer) is 200-300 USD so the 100$ PC would really be great here. While IT engineers are hard to find, people generally knows how to use computer. Internet cafes are popular (0.5 USD/hr).

4. 10 licensed ISPs but only 4 are operational. The latest one, AngkorNet, a 60-40 joint venture between the Anana and MediaRing, is offering 128kbps 5Gb cap for only 230 USD compared to Telesurf (part of Mobitel) 350 USD per month. This is going to be interesting to watch. (Oh, thanks for sharing how AngkorNet deploy their wimax network! Fairly interesting and good luck!)

5. The growth is incredible with the GDP estimated to grow at 7% year to year. As a reference, the land downtown cost 2-3 USD/sq meter 3 years ago is now worth 200-300 USD/sq meter. A friend bought a piece of land for 15k USD 4 years ago and it is worth 125K USD now.

6. The politics also look very stable. The US has the largest Embassy in Asia right here in Cambodia. In fact, I was having dinner with some folks from Intel and they told me they need to get clearance from various bosses before they can go Jakarta but none from Cambodia.

Oh yes, the best office I being to today goes to the Supreme National Economic Council of the Office of the Prime Minister (somewhat like EDB in Singapore). It is a small villa with a huge garden and a private tenis court right in the middle of downtown. I was told they are the think-tank for the Prime Minister on economy issues. I wish I have taken some photos.

And in case you wonder, yes, they are extremely professional. The director I met could pass off as an EDB scholar in the the way carried himself got his master in Australia and PhD in US. Young and smart people are in charge ;-)

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