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Telecommunication companies open up the world and make it easier than ever to reach out and touch someone. But, perhaps even more important, is the relevance of a brand, and how it can empathize and connect with the community it is servicing.
A prime example is Cellcard, proudly Khmer and the kingdom’s only homegrown telco.
“The things we do are all tuned to the cadence of local people and families,” says Cellcard CEO Simon Perkins, who says the company maintains an absolute focus on staying local. “One of our two main competitors is from Malaysia; the other’s from Vietnam. They don’t have that same DNA.”
This success is no small feat during a time when the telecommunications industry must adjust to remain relevant as the needs and demands of tech-savvy consumers change rapidly.
“Traditional voice and SMS services have become less important as time goes on,” Perkins explains. “People use their phones for data and a large part of the population here access the internet purely via mobile phone.”
Fiber optic service to homes is still in the embryonic stage in Cambodia. While the public waits for that revolution – and the advent of 5G – to occur, mobile data is king.
Cellcard is providing access to a variety of content to support its customers’ digital lifestyles, including music, TV and gaming. Indeed, Cellcard was the first telco to see the potential of esports and online gaming and to launch a gaming portfolio.
“While connectivity is king, offering access and content is of equal importance, because technology is best when it connects people to what they love,” Perkins notes.
“It’s one thing to provide the underlying data service, but on top of that, you need to provide the content your customers want. In this case, it’s the games and encouragement to partake in tournaments to display their skills.”
Having recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, Cellcard is no new kid on the block. On the contrary, it has a long line of first-to-market initiatives and innovations and is Cambodia’s most awarded operator with over 40 awards under its belt.
However, being a locally owned, single-market entity, these feats were not achieved without challenges or difficulties.
“We’re not Vodafone, we’re not SingTel, we aren’t part of an international group,” Perkins says. “That’s a challenge. We have to do everything ourselves: recruiting, training and motivating staff.”
It also means developing a hands-on approach to talent development, which has resulted in a loyal workforce.
“The majority of our workforce are locals,” Perkins says. “If we have to use a contractor, we go local.”
To further support this, since 2021, Cellcard has partnered with Sabai Code to run Full Stack Developer bootcamps, arming emerging digital savvy talent with the skills and knowledge they need to rise in the field.
As part of a local conglomerate, The Royal Group of Companies, Cellcard is also launching collaborative initiatives and efforts within the Group to expand its value offers. Recent collaborations involve financial services company Wing, and fiber-based broadband provider Ezecom.
But the focus on local doesn’t mean that Cellcard is limiting itself to national or even regional partnerships.
“When it comes to partnerships, we’re not afraid to look beyond Asia. We have strong relationships with international partners such as Huawei, ZTE and Nokia,” Perkins adds.
“The service quality of European vendors is also very good, and their electronics don’t consume as much power as some of the others. That’s very important to us.”
With Cambodia’s energy grid still developing in some places, having efficient equipment means greater reach.
“We’ve driven down our energy costs significantly by doing basic things such as reducing the number of generators we run and taking advantage of solar.”
Perkins’ focus on efficiency has involved prioritizing network quality and reliability. Achieving this was at the forefront of his mind when he became CEO in 2021.
“It’s the basics you need to get right,” he says. “Don’t worry about the frills and niceties, they’re second priority. Deliver the basics, deliver them well and listen to your customers.
“There are thousands of mechanisms people will use to express an opinion about what you’re doing, and you have to be across all of them.”
One of the most incessant demands is more data.
“People don’t talk in megabytes anymore,” he says. “It’s all about gigabytes. You have to be delivering more and more gigabytes at an affordable price to serve the demands of the consumer.
“Whether it’s in Phnom Penh or out in the country, we have to provide that service everywhere.”
That means more investment, better technology and greater understanding of the market.
“Technology is evolving all the time, so everything has to be online,” he says.
“Nobody wants to visit a store or a service center anymore. They want to be able to use Telegram or WhatsApp to communicate with us directly. So you have to make sure you’re prepared for that, that those channels work extremely well.”
There’s also the inevitability of a bespoke app as another point of service.
“You have to have that. It needs to be easy to use and tailored to the local language so they can do everything they need to do,” he explains.
Adding another layer of challenge is Cambodia’s prepaid-heavy market.
“You have to make it easy for people to top up,” Perkins notes. “Most of our prepaid top-ups are still via scratch card, but we know that people also need an online version that they understand and trust, and that’s growing very quickly.”
Another key lesson gleaned from Cellcard’s customers is an increasing sophistication.
“A few years ago, people didn’t care about quality of service. They just wanted the cheapest and would switch sims accordingly,” Perkins says. “Now, as the market develops and Cambodia’s GDP improves, service quality is more important than ever.”
And Cellcard’s long professional life and deep roots have placed it in a prime position to deliver precisely what the people want.
“This year, Cellcard was named exclusive telecom partner of the historic 32nd SEA Games and 12th Para Games, which were held in Cambodia for the first time,” Perkins adds. “We also went public and were listed on the Cambodia Stock Exchange.
“We recently celebrated our 25th anniversary, and we’ve seen a lot of other players come and go in that time. But we’ve shown resilience and sustainability through good and bad, and we’re still here. Just being here and being consistent is a key attribute, and honestly, quite an accolade.”