Cellcard: the Cambodian telco playing the game

Cellcard: the Cambodian telco playing the game

Cambodia’s only locally owned telco, Cellcard, is pushing into esports and 5G. CEO Ian Watson gives us the rundown on the company’s latest progress

Cellcard is the only telco in Cambodia that’s 100 per cent Cambodian owned. Not only is it proud of its homegrown heritage, it’s part of the company’s identity, outlook and market position.

“The Cambodian set of family values is at the core of everything we do,” says Cellcard’s CEO Ian Watson.  “The European companies have strong brand association, but we always say you can’t be self-governed on the outside unless you’ve got Cellcard DNA on the inside. And every year we give a lot back to the customers. We’re approaching millions of dollars in promotion, prizes and giveaways over the past couple of years, and we’ve signed Cambodian talent to endorse Cellcard, and we’ve installed 5G telemedicine – free voice and data calls to doctors, nurses and medical staff – to help with Covid.”

And Covid isn’t the only adversity to have struck Cambodia in 2020. The country also suffered fatal floods. Yet Cellcard is committed to youth engagement. “We’ve suffered a lot this year in terms of the flooding and we’ve produced a new song celebrating the strength and resilience of the people out there. We’re stronger together, encouraging joy and the main thing is pride.”

That youth engagement goes beyond marketing, though. Watson admits Cellcard was late to market with 4G LTE, but is determined it will be first to achieve full 5G coverage in Cambodia. And that’s not all, because the company has spotted a new opportunity: e-sports.

“Sixty per cent of the Cambodian population is under 30,” Watson says. “So you have this segment that can drive a lot of revenue for telcos. We realised from the research and industry trends that esports was becoming a huge phenomenon in Cambodia. So we said, what can we do to bring this to the youth? And the answer is in the network: consistency, low latency. It’s not just about the price: it’s about the consistency, quality and everything else.”

Cellcard has launched Play Game, an online gaming platform. “And we’re getting it right. We want to say: we’ve got this. Is it relevant to you? And if it’s not, we go back to the teardown. Bring it down and build it back up.

Did Watson look to other territories before launching Play Game on home soil? “Yeah, we looked at competitive benchmarking, and what worked in other markets around the world. But really the key for us was to undertake very detailed market research: what do they do, where do they eat, what do they eat, who do they eat with. Who is who in the gaming community. And what we tried to do was build a community of esports and gamers and make that relevant to their current lifestyle. So when they come home at night they’ve got a consistent network, a good choice of games and it’s easy to pay.

“And we’re looking at venues, we’re looking at special venues, forums, building gaming arenas and everything else, but also we’re looking at the mental health awareness. You can’t just game for 24 hours, you’ve got to have a break, go and have a cup of tea. I’m a big gamer myself and sometimes you get sucked into these big gaming tournaments. So it’s very important to us to be part of the lifestyle but it’s more important to understand how gaming fits into someone’s overall lifestyle.”

And what about hardware? Watson says there are territory-specific reasons why mobile gaming is at the forefront of Cambodia’s esports scene. “One of the benefits with mobile gaming is you haven’t got to buy a huge PS5 or Xbox. These things were trading at about $1,200 before Christmas Eve. And the iPhone is about the same price, but it’s got so much more functionality. So we need to make sure people can rely on Cellcard to be a trusted partner. It’s all about the trust and relevance.”

That means security is “critical”. “The mobile phone is becoming an intrinsic part of your life. It’s the custodian of all your records, your photos. It’s the way you communicate through email, the way you pay your bills. So data privacy and data security is paramount to us. Even though there are no data privacy laws in Cambodia, we give people assurance that we won’t share their data with any third parties.”

What about partnerships? “We engage with all the big players – people like Tencent – right down to the boutique places coming up with new games and content. We’re not part of some huge group so we have to work twice as hard to get these big players to deal with us because our competitors are in a number of countries around the world and we’re not. But the way we engage with the youth and the gaming sector is what makes them want to work with us. Because our approach is based around the brand values and it’s a breath of fresh air for these people to deal with us on a day-to-day basis.

They know we’re going to drive engagement. The quality of our network is very important to us, so in terms of latency and everything else, when people do come on the network to play games it’s a very very good experience

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