PHNOM PENH -- Cambodia plans to sign an agreement with China's Huawei Technologies as early as Sunday to help roll out a 5G data network next year, according to officials.
"We are going to run the 5G maybe around 2020," Meas Po, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, told Nikkei Asian Review.
Po said that in addition to signing a memorandum of understanding with Huawei, Cambodia would also seek help from a South Korean company.
"For the technology, we will have two," said Po. "One is Chinese technology and the other is maybe Korean technology. We are going to have an MOU . . . but we have not yet made a contract with Huawei yet."
Po said the ministry had also contacted Korea Telecom (now known as KT corporation) to discuss a feasibility study. KT and South Korea's two other major providers launched the world's first nationwide commercial 5G network earlier this month. KT did not respond to a request for comment.
Cambodia's deal with Huawei is set to be signed in Beijing on Sunday, where Prime Minister Hun Sen is currently attending China's second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, another official said.
Sry Thamarong, a minister attached to the Cambodian premier, said Hun Sen would meet Huawei's vice president on April 28 for a signing ceremony, Xinhua reported.
Marc Einstein, chief analyst at Japan-based IT research and advisory firm ITR, said 5G technology would be “super important” for mobile-heavy places like Cambodia, which was a “little bit ahead of the game” relative to comparable countries such as Myanmar and Laos.
Einstein said Huawei’s cost effectiveness would likely trump security concerns in the region, with Phnom Penh’s increasingly close ties with Beijing adding a “geopolitical aspect” to the cooperation.
The planned agreement comes amid global tensions over Huawei's role in building 5G networks, the super-fast next generation of mobile internet connectivity which promises to be 100 times faster than 4G, setting the stage for the so-called "Fourth Industrial Revolution."
But Huawei's perceived ties to the Chinese army has seen the U.S. pressure its allies to bar Huawei from their 5G networks because of concerns that the company spies for Beijing.
While Australia last year blocked its networks from using the company's 5G gear, the U.K. this week granted Huawei limited scope to help build sections of its 5G network.
Despite the scrutiny, Huawei has forged ahead, so far signing 40 commercial contracts for 5G with global carriers by the end of March.
On Monday the company reported a 39% jump in revenue to 179.7 billion yuan ($26.8 billion) for the first-quarter. The increase for the three months to the end of March amounted to twice the 19.5% growth logged for all of 2018.
In Southeast Asia, Huawei has launched a 5G test bed in Thailand, and partnered with companies in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia to run trial services. In the Philippines, the company is working with a local provider to bring a 5G network online this year. Huawei is also well placed to roll out its 5G technology in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
In Cambodia, Huawei partnered with local telco Smart Axiata to upgrade its network to 4.5G in 2017, improvements the company said could be used as "a bridge" to 5G technology.
Meanwhile, Cellcard, another of Cambodia's major carriers, is planning to launch its own 5G network to cover urban areas by the end of the year.
Cellard CEO Ian Watson said the company wanted to lead the race to digitize Cambodia. "We're already very much down the track of 5G," Watson told Nikkei.
"We've done the trials last year in Shenzhen, all our network is pre-5G, so we've got a whole host of plans ready to be one of the first in Southeast Asia to roll out 5G by the last quarter this year."