Tharum Bun musings from Cambodia

This is a recent interview I gave to a foreign correspondent. In the email questions & answers, I talked about the technology community and the emerging startups that Cambodians think help taking the Kingdom of Cambodia on the global map. You can also read my previous blog post about the Cambodian tech startups and coffee culture.

1) How was Cambodia’s tech scene changed since you started covering it?
Nearly ten years ago, tech geeks here worked quietly on their own. No collaboration, no exchange of what they’re doing. Basically, there was little communication and community in place for that. Today, the tech community is just amazing. It’s growing, and people are well-connected. This means people have more organic support and collaboration than in 2007.

At a tech event in Phnom Penh

2) What kind of challenges and opportunities do Cambodian tech startups face? Are they particularly active in some industries vs others (e-commerce, mobile money, etc.)?
Cambodian tech startups don’t, at this point in time, don’t really have the kind of support from the government like in Singapore or even Thailand and Vietnam. The main challenge facing the startup people here is: to change the mindset of the users (or customers). For example, even a successful startup that can build the best tech platform with a lot of payment methods, local customers are not willing to take the risk.

3) What are for you some of the most interesting Cambodian tech startups active today?
There is a big gap in term of doing things and living life in an ordinary way. To me, some of the most amazing Cambodian startups are those tackling the common issues. It’s not really about disrupting a sector but transforming it. For example, Cambodian startup like BookMeBus offers a convenient way to book online bus tickets. Home delivery service like Joonaak is changing the way Cambodians shop their products and get them delivered to their doorstep.

4) In what ways do you hope to see the country’s tech scene improve?
I’d love to see Cambodia’s tech scene to grow organically. The community, the service providers, the government, the investors, and everyone in between have the belief that to have a good environment, infrastructure, and support in place will help tech startups doing well. One day, Phnom Penh would become the most amazing city in the region for startups.

5) What’s the typical profile of Cambodian tech entrepreneurs?
This is so typical that a lot of founders I’ve met and talked to are men in their late 20s and early 30s. They’ve got the enthusiasm, commitment, and necessary skills to start things out. They’re much more connected within the community, too.

6) What kind of financing opportunities do Cambodian tech entrepreneurs have? Are more private investors investing in Cambodian tech startups?
I don’t really think there are many opportunities just yet. Right now, it’s small. So it’s a big opportunity for those interested in doing more things with Cambodian startup people.

Lately, I’ve written several blog posts about Internet Providers (or ISPs) in Cambodia. In this latest, let’s take a look at Google Wifi, one of the most simplified WiFi routers, that’s both easy to install and use. In addition to this, Google Wifi is pretty much stable and fast.

At my home in Tuol Kork district in Phnom Penh, I subscribe to a fiber optic Internet connection, SINET Fiber Edge.

The dedicated speed for both upload and download is 10Mbps. Having the best of Google Wifi is a great addition to my home Internet. One pack of Google Wifi covers 457.2 meters home, while 3 packs have the capability to blanket your entire, large home of 1371.6 meters. I live in a 2 story flat house. So having one is good enough.

 

Technology websites like CNET, The Verge, and Engadget gave some great reviews about Google Wifi. CNET wrote that “Google Wifi is easy to use and a breeze to set up. It has strong Wi-Fi coverage and fast speed. It costs a lot less than other mesh Wi-Fi systems.” In The Verge, the review site said: “Google says that the Wifi system is the product of three-and-a-half years of work — and it has previously released a router, called the OnHub.”

This Google’s mesh Wifi router is taking on products like Netgear and Eero. Yet, Google multi-point router system is still priced cheaper than these brands.

In Cambodia, you can buy Google Wifi here at Sweet Memory Store. One pack is for $149.

Fiber Edge is an ideal Internet package for small, family-run businesses and technology startups on a shoestring budget in Cambodia. As I’ve been using this Fiber Edge Internet service plan for nearly a year, it’s a good time to share my experience with those who look for a good Internet plan from SINET, one of the best Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the Kingdom.

Over the past years, I used a shared Internet plan, an ADSL (not a dedicated Internet). Common uses for email and web browsing were just okay, but for the conference call and HD video streaming were an issue. Connection stability was just unpredictable. The pain came when the connection was down several times a month, and the support came to fix only a week after I contacted that ISP. I decided to switch my ISP for the first time in years.

In August 2016, I contacted to SINET, Cambodia’s dedicated Internet provider, to install the Internet at my home in Tuol Kork district. While I already did some online research into this Internet provider, the saleswoman still insisted on giving me more information about the package, Fiber Edge (8Mbps) I wanted to go for.

In less two days after I signed up with SINET for Fiber Edge, the fiber-only Internet provider sent their staff to survey the location and do the installation. This is the first time I’ve got this so-called fiber optic connection for my home, where about ten users with multiple devices connect to the new connection through a new, decent WiFi router, too.

The difference between the previous provider is that SINET’s support is far more responsive. It took them a shorter time to come fix when the connection is down. There were times when the Internet cables from the pole on the street were cut off without anyone’s notice. In Phnom Penh, this is so common. Good news is that SINET also has the MetroLink, the underground fiber optic cable, in many parts of the city, including in my area. So hopefully, I will soon have this connection over the MetroLink instead. I could imagine that the city hall has been working tirelessly to beautify Phnom Penh by having less messy cables across the streets and boulevards.

Starting in January 2017, SINET offered a free speed upgrade Fiber Edge from 8Mbps to 10Mbps, which is quite noticeable. I feel that this Internet package is much more than enough for a small office or a shop that need stable Internet with dedicated support. With a lof of the jobs relies on a reliable Internet connection, this $400 per year Internet plan is also just the beginning. I recommended this Fiber Edge to a friend who runs a small web design firm, to begin with before upgrading to a bigger bandwidth plan, Fiber Plus (20Mbps) when her company grows with more clients and staff members. Next, you’ll get to know more about Fiber Plus.

Also: Cambodia’s fastest Internet Provider ISP

These are photographs from May 24, 2013. It was when I stayed in Amsterdam for about a week touring one of the European cities I’ve dreamed of. On one of the days, with two other Dutch fellows, I took a train from Amsterdam to Enschede, a city in the eastern Netherlands in the province of Overijssel. This city is very close to Germany.

The best of my short stay in the Netherlands is visiting many magnificent museums. Even in this sleepy town, I also went around to check out its museums and arts exhibitions.


A visit to Marc-Jan Trapman, whom I worked with in from the late 1999 to the early 2000s.

With Marc-Jan, his wife, nephew and niece

More about my trip in Amsterdam here!

What’s the easiest to understand a technical jargon term? Google that term, you’ll get a lot definitions, including from some the big name dictionaries.
Here’s how Sideways Dictionary explains what’s an Internet Service Provider using simple analogy.

Internet Service Provider — It’s like a gym. You pay a monthly fee and some get more out of it than others. Hardcore users may sweat the broadband connection hard, uploading and downloading their bodyweight in files every month. Others may pop in now and again for some light social media action. You buy different packages depending on your lifestyle.


Bandwidth?

It’s like a water pipe that serves the shower, washing machine and dishwasher in your apartment. If you run all three at the same time, you’ll notice a drop in pressure and whoever’s in the shower will get annoyed.

Bandwidth gift

Dark Web

It’s like the dark side of the moon. The bright side (the internet) is visible to everyone – all you have to do is look up. To access the dark side, you need specialist software (a rocket).

Want some tough technical terms explained in an easy way to understand?
Check out Sideways Dictionary.

Over the few past months I’ve had a privilege to talk and interact with some amazing Cambodians who have built and served the backbone of the Internet connectivity in Cambodia. Just like anywhere else in the world, when people can access fast Internet, there are endless possibilities. These three people told me about their work as well as their daily routine to provide high speed Internet connections over fiber optic cables to home, businesses, and organizations across the country.

Ms. Chou Lylinh, IP Network Manager

Chou Lylinh of Cambodian ISP SINET

Chou Lylinh of Cambodian ISP SINET

Ms. Chou Lylinh is currently an IP Network Manager. She has worked at SINET since 2011. Before joining SINET, Lylinh studied Economics and Informatic at Royal University of Laws and Economics (RULE) and English Literature at University of Cambodia. Her dual bachelor degree was awarded scholarships.

Routine
“After breakfast, I come to the SINET office. I always check my email inbox, Skype, Line, and Telegram for what’s new or to check whether there are any pending issues from our team or customer. I do my support work on each issue one by one base on my role. In addition to this, I work on projects, network plans, and network maintenance.”

Dealing with challenges
“What I do is keep trying to researching in the issues. I also discuss with my supervisor about technical issues. My supervisor Kong Diep, who is so open to us. Mostly I seek his practical advice, not theory. I think that the more I do, the more I know, and the stronger I am.”

What a surprise!
“My parents and friends were really surprised when they first learned that I work as an engineer at a telecommunications company. It’s funny moment. I tell them and everyone that it’s the kind of work I love. They said they rarely see women doing engineering work.”

Dream her job
“When I was young, I had never dreamed of becoming an engineer. Back then, IT was not very popular in Cambodia yet. I even did not know what is IT mean at that time. But I thought that IT is like news, interview, and such.”

More women in tech?
“I want younger women to learn computer science and become a technologist and engineer like me. I definitely encourage them to take on the job in this sector.”

Working with passion
“I love computer networking. I think if I work here I can do what I wish. I can learn what I love and I also can practice what I have learn. SINET is an ISP, so network lovers always like to work for. I love my work. I’m so proud of what I am working on. So I always feel positive and am happy about work.”

Mr. Sok Sovutha, Technical Support Supervisor

Sok Sovutha, 27, is a Technical Support Supervisor.
“I love my family and enjoy spending my quality time my them, especially my one year old and half daughter.

At SINET, I’m a Technical Support Supervisor. I’ve been with SINET since 2012. I started out as a Technical Support Officer, Installer Operator Team Leader, and Field Operation Supervisor before holding the present position managing nearly 20 team members.

At SINET, my team members are at the front-line dealing directly with customers. My team members work to support customers with every issue: the Internet connection and even their local area network. A lot of workplaces don’t have a tech support, so even they have issue with their local network, we still support them. The hotline and support unit are together in one team. So we’re well synchronized.

One interesting instance in early 2014, there was an electricity blackout in Bavet of Svay Rieng Province, and our Internet links were cut off. But my team worked around the clock for 2 days and half to restore the connection.

In the office, we often have snack time together. We love sour fruits. Mouthwatering. Once every month we dine out together.

Initially I wanted to go to medical school to become a medical doctor. But I could manage to go to Notorton Unversity for Computer Science bachelor’s degree.

I feel very proud of being here with SINET since the early day. In 2012 when I first started our Internet service covered only major cities and provinces. Now, we cover the whole country, even the districts.

In addition to Khmer as a mother tongue language, I speak English and some basic Chinese with customers.

I am family man. I some time work from 8am-8pm and my wife waits for me for dinner. I want to finish to work, try not to leave it for tomorrow.”

Mrs. Por Chantrea, Key Account Manager

With SINET since mid 2012, Ms. Por Chantrea is now a Key Account Manager.
On acquiring the first customer
“I did it everything I could to set the very first appointment with my prospect customer. It took me some time. I didn’t give up quickly. At the end I was rewarded a meeting and having him as a customer.”

On her colleagues
“I love it more than anything else when my colleagues buy me breakfast or lunch whenever I’m too busy with work and forgetting my meal.”

On holding various positions
“I graduated from the university with a major in Finance and Banking. I started at SINET as an administrative assistant, project manager assistant (when I learned about username and password), and revenue assurance officer. Now I’m a deputy marketing manager.”

On delayed birthday surprise
“I felt very disappointed when my colleagues seemed not to realise that it’s my birthday and there was no cake. It’s until the day later when the surprise and the cake arrived. What a delayed birthday surprise set up by my colleagues at this work place I call my home second home.”

On talking straight to the point
“I don’t talk much. But on certain topics, I can talk for hours. So I believe that I’ve got the talent to be a good marketer.”

Since 2009, SINET is a specialist dedicated ISP in Cambodia with focus on engineering excellence & dedicated services.

Among the Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia still sees the lowest rate of toilet coverage, which has lead to disease, environmental issues, and impeded economic development among the population.

I believe that although it is really challenging to tackle one of Cambodia’s biggest development obstacles, we citizens should work together to put a stop to all these issues that are caused by a lack of latrines or toilets in the country.

And, we need to keep encouraging our family members and relatives to poop in a safe and clean place as well. Don’t forget to get a toilet builder near you, ok? 😉

As someone who has spent most of the time living in the city, finding a toilet might not be an issue, but finding a clean toilet might be. However, this has improved in urban areas over the last few years. Unfortunately, though, the countryside or any place outside urban areas do not see brighter light.

Relatives and friends still complain when they go to attend events or celebrations outside Phnom Penh. Some have to resort to bushes and use tree leaves as toilet paper. But whenever this topic comes up during chats or discussions, many shy away to discuss this open secret. Being shy about it is one thing, but refusing to discuss this problem about the lack of hygiene or not having a toilet is not going to help.

I’d say, don’t be shy to encourage your family members and friends who live far away to build a toilet and keep it clean always. Be it water or toilet paper. And, be it a squat toilet or not, many Cambodians I assume still prefer squat toilets which are great and help you defecate better.

Maybe some of us think that it’s a small matter, but if you look at the repercussion on the health of your children and your family, you’ll realize how important “this shit” is to everyone and yourself.

Watch this video to understand more about this common yet serious issue facing Cambodian people.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post from the social campaign to raise awareness about a shortage of latrines in Cambodia.

This is an unedited interview I gave to Matt Surrusco of The Cambodia Daily.

Matt Surrusco: What accounts for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wide reach and popularity on Facebook?
In term of content strategy, I don’t think there is anything new. Before long there was national TV coverage for the mass audience. Back in the old days, there were visits to the rural areas, talking to farmers and doing harvesting with them. But unlike TV, Facebook is a multi-stream of content delivery, reception, viral distribution. Now Facebook is a grand platform for the country leader to get the message out in a more personalized, engaging way. Now, in addition to these activities that are being exposed on the Facebook Page, there are captured moments from the backyard and the bedroom. The other reason is for the Prime Minister’s digital media team to go for which medium first: Facebook first or TV first, or online news source first.

Matt Surrusco: In what ways is he (or his social media team) effectively using the platform? What features of Facebook help the prime minister gain followers and interactions?
Breaking news, personal stories (photos and videos), critical opinions are probably some of most popular piece of content people love to consume and spread wider.

Matt Surrusco: How does Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page shape the public’s perception of him?
The PM’s Facebook Page is the most effective tool to stay closer to the people in a more personal way. Much more than TV, radio, and newspaper. It enables people to feel that we’re, after all, humans. People from all walks of life to interact with the top leader of Cambodia in way that we couldn’t in a long time. It allows Cambodians to feel closer to the nation leader not by watching him and his family members, including his grandchildren, not on TV (one way), but by scrolling on our mobile phone (a personal device we live and breathe with every minute).

Matt Surrusco: What are the societal and political pros and cons of Prime Minister Hun Sen engaging and sharing information with Cambodians on Facebook? (in terms of interactions between citizens and political leaders, starting conversations about political issues)
More information, more informed citizens. Also, with the growing number of Cambodians are joining Facebook everyday, using the medium as a social listening tool could be very powerful.
When all are genuine and honest, talking truth to power, we’re on a path to a more total transparent society than we have ever experienced.

You can read the complete news article here online:
Among World Leaders, PM’s Facebook 2nd for Engagement (The Cambodia Daily)
by Matt Surrusco | February 22, 2017

Also: Cambodia leaders rev up Facebook rivalry as popularity soars (AP)

If you’re currently looking for an Internet Provider for either your home, office, or business, this is the guide for you. There are nearly 20 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Cambodia. These ISPs are based in Phnom Penh with branches in major provinces like Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Although there are many ISPs operating in Cambodia, but only a few of them own and operate the most advanced optic networks covering 25 Cambodian provinces. These ISPs have a variety of options you can choose: from Wireless, to ADSL to Fiber Optic line.

SINET: Cambodia’s fastest Internet Provider or Google Fiber of Cambodia

SINET provides an Internet connection speed of up to 150Mbps for both download and upload. Believe it or not, this is the highest speed Internet bandwidth you can have from this provider. According to the Hurricane Electric Network, which ranks all global Networks by country, “SINET is by far the number one most connected network in Cambodia.” Here’s the list of the Cambodia’s international networks as appeared Hurricane Electric Database.

I’ve started using SINET’s Internet connection since August 2016. I subscribed to Fiber Edge plan for my home/shop/office. I paid Fiber Edge (10Mbps) for $400 per year. No installation fee. Right after the installation, I bought a WiFi router, TP-LINK 940N, for about $25. This is a reasonably price router recommended by the ISP. It’s really a good router for a small family home.

Things I like about this SINET, which branded itself as a dedicated Internet provider (there are not many in Cambodia):

Dedicated Internet: I’ve got the fiber connection all for my home/office. This is the huge difference from having a shared Internet link (with my neighbor). The download/upload speed is really good. Dedicated Internet access means that the specified amount of bandwidth sold has been carved out and dedicated for your use.
Quick fix. Whenever I encountered any issues with my internet, the support staff have helped fix them in just a day, not a week like my previous ISP. This is a big plus when I need the connection for Skype calls at home or working to meet my deadline, rather going to the cafe.
If you run a small business or want to have a high speed/quality Internet for home, apartment or office, I’d recommend SINET. In addition to their 24/7 support, their staff are well-trained and responsive.

/ December 19, 2016 / Comments Off on Cambodia: tech startups and coffee culture

Cambodia: tech startups and coffee culture

In May 1997 people in Cambodia could join the wider world through the Internet for the first time. Back then, the dial-up connection speed was 64Kbps, which allowed the Internet users to exchange email messages and surf web pages. Fast forward to 2016, you can subscribe to a dedicated 150Mbps fiber optic connection. In a country like Cambodia, once lagged behind nations in Southeast Asia, is now head to head with them in term of infrastructure, innovation, and technology. Today, videoconferencing, broadcast live video, or watching 4K video content on YouTube or Netflix are definitely possible with high quality connection.

Cambodian tech and startup community

The Internet penetration in Cambodia (a population of over 15 million) has increased rapidly (only 9% in 2015, 19% in 2016). From small businesses to large organisations, the backbone of their daily operation demands fast, yet reliable Internet connection. Here’s
an amazing map that shows the growing technology community in the heart of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital city. Internet Service Provider (ISP) like SINET partners with Impact Hub Phnom Penh, a global network of collaborators focused on making a positive impact in Cambodia, the latest business incubator TekHub, and SmallWorld where Cambodian entrepreneurs and digital nomads can connect with the large communities. The tech entrepreneurs are so enthusiastic to build their startups to market here and hopefully in Southeast Asia. In January 2017, a new startup accelerator and incubator will be opened in the heart of Phnom Penh. Trybe is going to be a place where people make, do, and share. A maker-space, a co-working space, startup focal point all in one. With these startup communities continue grow like mushrooms in rainy season, Phnom Penh is becoming a charming city of startups. A more premium class work space is just a few walks away from Wat Phnom: Rain Tree Development. “Nurturing entrepreneur spirits falls within our core values. We’ve been working with Impact Hub and Tekhub since the beginning,” Vireak Ouk, SINET’s Chief Operating Officer, told me recently.

Sipping coffee, thinking the web

Since 2011, Phnom Penh’s coffee culture has been growing rapidly and remarkably. To offer their customers the world class in-store experience, many of the coffee shops use dedicated Internet service to serve hundreds of customers with multiple devices each day. Some of these coffee stores are local coffee chain Brown Coffee and Bakery, Coffee Bean Tea & Leaf, and Joma Bakery Café.

There is much more to see happening in 2017 as Cambodian tech entrepreneurs are looking forward to a more growing number of mobile Internet users to tap into. Those co-working spaces and cafes with high speed Internet connections are the new, modern home offices for tinkerers and innovators to build the next big things in Cambodia.