Thailand’s second largest cellco, GSM operator DTAC, has shelved plans to form a joint venture with state-run CAT Telecom to roll out 3G services, and is instead going it alone in upgrading 2G networks to UMTS standard under a THB5 billion (USD160 million) plan, reports the Bangkok Post. CEO Sigve Brekke said DTAC expected to roll out commercial 3G services in Phuket and Chon Buri by the end of this year, building up to nationwide coverage in 2009. DTAC, a subsidiary of Norway’s Telenor, plans to utilise its legacy 850MHz frequency band to roll out W-CDMA/HSDPA technology enabling mobile internet access at speeds of up to 1Mbps. Brekke said that setting up a 3G partnership with CAT would take more time because it required Cabinet approval. However DTAC still needs approval for the plan from CAT, under its build-transfer-operate (BTO) network operating concession with the state telco, and is set to meet with CAT’s board this week to discuss the matter. The CEO said DTAC had three possible 3G equipment suppliers lined up, and added that his firm recently took over three content providers – Radio Fat Co, Play Sabai Co and Create Co – for a combined THB150 million to help build up a range of downloadable 3G content. Mr Brekke also said that DTAC would not entirely abandon joint-venture plans with CAT and would seek to develop the partnership after the commercial rollout of 3G. ’We are willing to have CAT as our partner. [the venture] can be formed after the launch,’ he said.
DTAC’s larger GSM rival Advanced Info Service (AIS) appears to have a headstart in the race to launch UMTS, after announcing earlier this month that it would soft launch a 3G network using existing 900MHz spectrum in Chiang Mai by the end of May, and hoped to do the same in Bangkok in June. Thailand’s National Telecommunications Commission is yet to issue 2100MHz UMTS licences, but is expected to do so in the second half of this year.