The head of Thailand’s National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has hinted that the regulator could issue the country’s first 3G licences before the end of this year, according to the Bangkok Post. NTC chairman General Chuchart Promprasit yesterday told reporters that the regulator will be able to distribute UMTS concessions once it has completed its ‘Telecom Master Plan’, and issued licences to state owned incumbents TOT Corp and CAT Telecom, expected to take place next month. Whilst Promprasit declined to clarify a timetable for handing out the 3G concessions, he hinted that it could come sooner rather than later, not least in his warning that the country’s current cellcos would not be eligible to bid until they have resolved the terms of their BTO contracts with TOT and CAT. With this in mind, he said, he expected to see ‘at least four new operators’ receiving 3G concessions.
Thailand is currently home to five mobile operators, AIS, DTAC, TA Orange, Hutchison CAT and Thai Mobile. Under the terms of their BTO contracts, all five companies hand over ownership of their networks to TOT and CAT, and share a large proportion (between 10% and 45%) of their revenues with the incumbents. The private operators had been hoping that the NTC, which is still less than a year old, would outline the conversion of BTO contracts to full operating concessions, but the regulator has sidestepped the issue, saying that it is instead the responsibility of the companies concerned.