Thailand’s National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has formally given its permission for Advanced Info Service (AIS) to carry out a plan to launch commercial 3G mobile services in the 900MHz spectrum band in Chiang Mai on 6 May. AIS has also been granted permission to import 3.5G HSPA equipment. Suranant Wongwittayakumchorn, secretary-general of the NTC, confirmed that AIS could launch a commercial rather than a trial service, and that the upgrades to its 900MHz infrastructure with W-CDMA/HSDPA technology did not require a new licence, likening the process to the previous 3G EV-DO upgrades to CDMA2000 1x networks carried out in the country by Hutchison CAT Wireless Multimedia and CAT CDMA. Shin Corp-owned AIS, Thailand’s largest cellco by subscribers, had sought permission, in conjunction with state-run telco TOT, to upgrade 30 base stations in Chiang Mai to HSPA technology, Suranant said, but added that it needs to ask the NTC for further permission to expand 3G coverage. AIS hopes to expand commercial 3G services to Bangkok in mid-June, where it hopes to upgrade 100 base stations initially. GSM rival DTAC is planning to follow a similar 3G launch strategy using re-farmed 800MHz/850MHz frequencies, ahead of the long-delayed issuing of 2100MHz UMTS licences, now expected in the second half of this year. AIS president Wichan Mektrakarn said that initial 3G services in the lower frequencies would be limited in scope, because they would still be provided under the existing build-transfer-operate (BTO) concessions (AIS with TOT as network host, DTAC with CAT Telecom), which involve all network assets and a large proportion of revenues being transferred to the state-owned companies.