Cambodia and Huawei signed an agreement on Sunday to develop the latest fifth generation 5G mobile network technology in the country, which the United States has urged its allies not to use.
Cambodia is the first country in Southeast Asia signing a deal on 5G, which can reach speeds as much as 100 times faster than 4G. The agreement was signed in Beijing as Prime Minister Hun Sen joined the second Belt and Road forum last week.
Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday: “This is the best if Cambodia has 5G internet technology since it is fast.”
According to the post, Wu Weitao, Huawei’s president for Southeast Asia, said Huawei “will also cooperate with Cambodia’s government ministries and institutions and improve the digital sector in Cambodia.”
Meas Po, undersecretary of state at Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said he could not divulge further details about the agreement.
5G will also be central to a vision of the future in which smart cities filled with smart homes and offices replete with devices connected to the “internet of things” hum along amid torrents of personal, business and official data.
David Li, CEO of Cambodian operations for Huawei, which is facing criticism over security from the U.S., in March promised to “help Cambodia obtain better digital technology to improve social productivity and national economy.”
Huawei Technologies Cambodia launched in 1999, he added.
“We have been operating 2G, 3G, 4G, and now we’re heading toward 5G,” he said. “Currently we are the only industry vendor that can provide the intertwined 5G system. I believe this year 2019 will be a milestone year for 5G in Cambodia,” Li said.
Citing concerns that Huawei is, like many Chinese companies, linked to the Beijing government, the U.S. has been urging allies not to let Huawei build their 5G networks. But in countries like Thailand, Cambodia’s neighbor and a U.S. ally, Huawei are building and testing a 5G network because authorities said its low cost trumped U.S. pressure.
William Carter, deputy director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said in earlier March that any country doing business with Huawei on 5G will have to deal with the risk of Chinese influence.
“And the question will be to what extent is that concern enough to overcome the price advantage and the service advantages and the integrated financing advantages [of] doing business with Huawei,” he said.
As more private businesses and government services move towards cashless payment and online data access, Cambodia is emerging as a rich market for 5G telecoms.
Approximately 13.6 million people, or 82 percent of Cambodians, use the internet, and about 7 million use Facebook. The number of mobile subscriptions reached about 19.5 million by January 2019, or 120 percent penetration, according to official figures.
Sok Puthyvuth, secretary of state at the telecommunications ministry, told VOA Khmer that Cambodia is eager for 5G penetration, urging private companies, including mobile operators and internet companies, “to make 5G available across the country.”