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Business deals

Mitsui doubles stake in Cambodia's mobile leader

Smart Axiata to offer new services with help of Japanese trading house

TOKYO -- Mitsui & Co. has raised its stake in Cambodia's Smart Axiata to 20% and will take a more active role in management in an effort to boost the wireless carrier's services in the growing Southeast Asian market.

The Tokyo-based trading company bought a 10% stake in Cambodia's mobile leader last year from its Malaysian parent Axiata Group. It recently acquired an additional 10% for about 100 billion yen ($888 million), turning Smart Axiata into an equity-method affiliate.

With Cambodia's population growing and income levels rising, more telecom-based services are expected to take root. Mitsui seeks to offer its know-how to broaden Smart Axiata's offerings and and boost profitability.

The Japanese company already has two staff members at Smart Axiata and will deepen its involvement in management. It will also help with smartphone procurement and refer Japanese business clients. In addition, Mitsui will look at how call-center personnel are deployed and review workflow to streamline costs.

Smart Axiata controls roughly 40% of Cambodia's mobile service market with about 7.3 million subscribers. Its mainstay offering is a $1 weekly plan. To increase sales per customer, the company will work to offer services with more added value.

Starting this summer, Smart Axiata will offer electronic comic books in collaboration with a big Japanese publisher. Financial and insurance services are also expected to be rolled out down the road.

Axiata Group offers mobile services in eight Asian countries, including at home and Bangladesh. Mitsui may expand its mobile business to the other countries where the group operates.

Sumitomo Corp., another Japanese trading house, offers mobile services in Myanmar through collaboration with Japan's KDDI and local state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications.

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