Laos Telecommunications

Laos is a small country in Asia (population of under 6 million), is playing the catch-up game in terms of telecoms technology. The telecommunications market in Laos is fairly undeveloped as the country has one of the lowest telecom penetration rates in Asia - just 5% for fixed and mobile telephones combined. The mobile telecommunications sector is actually bigger than fixed as it accounts for over 65% of subscribers. The take-up figures are healthier in the capital Vientiane since businesses demand fast and efficient telecommunications systems for voice communication and data - here the penetration rate is around 25%.

Outside the major cities the situation is vastly different, as there are many villages and townships and a large percentage of its residents are scattered in mountainous and heavily forested rural areas. There are few or no basic telephone services, whether fixed or mobile and a waiting list for fixed lines of between three and five years. Currently, many rural areas are serviced by solar-powered microwave stations which are often non-functional during the rainy season when conditions are overcast much of the time.

Hisotry

Since 1990, postal and telecommunications services have been extended both at the local and international levels. For example, there are express mail services to France, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, China, Thailand and Vietnam; an international call service; a cooperation program with foreign countries, and a microwave transmission system.

In 1993, Laos installed an advanced and modern telephone system as part of a project on the development of telecommunications systems operated by the Ministry of Communications, Transport, Posts and Construction. The objective of the project was to maintain compatibility and comparability with other countries in this region.

Development and Progress

The telecommunications master plan will update the entire system to provide optimal communications with the outside world. To do this, a microwave transmission centre will be established and the number of satellite channels received by the country increased. The telecommunications mater plan covers the period from 1987 to 2010 and is divided into five phases.

Improvements to the existing system were made during the first phase (1987-1990) using a US $ 4.5 million loan from the World Bank. Aid from Australia totaled 1.8 million and was used for the installation of the VISTA (F3) satellite earth station. The station is capable of receiving signals from INTELSAT with connections to the United States of America, France and Australia.

In the second phase (1991-1993), development focused on the installation of basic equipment. Communications, both locally and internationally, become automated. This phase used a budget of US$ 43.4 million: US$ 24.5 million in the form of a World Bank loan, US$ 13.8 million was Japan's aid and the remainder generated from foreign aid and local investment.

By the end of the second phase, the number of telephone lines increased from 5,675 to 18,232, all of them digital. Communications in and between Oudomxay, Luangprabang, Vientiane, Pakxanh, Thakhek, Savannakhet and Pakse that originally were accomplished by a high frequency radio system were changed to a microwave system, providing a 24 hour automatic switched telephone service for both local and international calls by way of the international gateway in Vientiane.

Expansion of a modern communication system network throughout the country was the objective during the third phase (1994-1997). A microwave dispatching line system was to be extended from Luangprabang to Pakse, where only 480 channels existed. This expansion plan makes possible communications with other provinces. The microwave system was also extended to cover every province, which also received a telephone public service office, telegraph and on-line information service.

Construction of a new satellite earth station was designed to have at least 120 telephone channels that can be expanded up to 1,920.

The expansion includes international radio and television broadcasting as well as personnel development. Completion of the project resulted in an additional 40,000 lines.

As for the fourth (1998-2000) and the fifth (2001-2010) phases, the plan has been revised to be much more in line with the country's needs. The number of telephone lines will increase to 340,000 (5 lines per 100 persons).

Economic development in Laos is aimed mainly at the development of its infrastructure. Another focus is on such unique opportunities as being an electricity-exporting centre for neighboring countries, especially Thailand and Vietnam. Thus, technological applications to help in the development of the country current tend to lean towards those areas of knowledge and management rather than more varied and complicated machinery.

Telephones

Telephone system: service to general public is poor but improving, with over 20,000 telephones currently in service and an additional 48,000 expected by 2001; the government relies on a radiotelephone network to communicate with remote areas
domestic: radiotelephone communications
international: satellite earth station - 1 Intersputnik (Indian Ocean region)
main lines in use: 25,000 (1997)
mobile cellular: 850,000(2007)

Radio

Radio broadcast stations: AM 12, FM 1, shortwave 4 (1998)
Radios: 730,000 (1997)

Televisions

Television broadcast stations: 4 (1999)
Televisions: 52,000 (1997)

Internet

Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: 10,000 (2002)
Country code (Top-level domain): LA