CDMA2000 1x and 1xEV-DO mobile phone services are expected to be commercially available in all provinces of Thailand by the end of this year, according to a statement by state-run operator CAT Telecom. The rollout of CAT’s 2.5G/3G network covering 51 provinces was completed by Chinese technology provider Huawei in January, and CAT says it is currently in a nationwide trial phase of EV-DO services. The remaining 25 provinces of the country, including Bangkok, are already served by a CDMA2000 1x mobile network run by CAT’s joint venture with Hong Kong’s Hutchison Telecom, Hutchison CAT Multimedia. CAT plans to team up with Hutch to market the new expanded service, but the two companies have not yet agreed on the details of the proposed tie-up. Executives of CAT and Hutch are meeting this week with their PR agency Ogilvy to discuss expanded cooperation. A CAT executive told local press that under the collaboration, services in all provinces would have the same end-user prices and promotions, but clarified that this did not mean CAT would hand over its nationwide network to Hutch to handle marketing, as had happened in the 25 central provinces. Procurement, employment and collection of service fees would be separated, the official said. Another company source said that Hutch now needed to upgrade its 1x network to match the transmission rates of CAT’s in order to provide seamless service nationwide.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, Hutchison CAT Wireless Multimedia is a joint venture between Hutchison Telecom International (HTIL) and CAT Telecom. CAT owns a 26% stake, whilst HTIL and its nominee companies hold the remaining 74%. The company has recently been forced to defend the legality of its ownership structure, which, on the face of it, appears to breach the Telecom Business Law capping foreign shareholdings to no more than 49%. It maintains that foreign ownership rules do not apply to it because it only ‘markets’ telecoms services rather than operating a network, whilst the actual telecoms licence holder is CAT. Hutchison CAT Wireless Multimedia had 728,000 subscribers at the end of 2006, down slightly from 732,000 a year earlier, whilst CAT currently only has around 15,000 users of its legacy CDMA IS-95A services. There were a total of 39.77 million mobile subscribers in Thailand at the end of 2006.
In other news, CAT is reported to be in talks with the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) about launching high speed telecoms services over PEA’s fibre-optic network.