30 August confirmed as 2100MHz bid date; 2.3GHz-2.6GHz plans announced

10 Jun 2010

Thai regulator the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has published a ‘final’ date of 30 August 2010 for kicking off the country’s much-delayed auction of 2100MHz 3G mobile licences, reports Telecomasia. The NTC’s third ‘3G Information Memorandum’ states that a maximum of three 15-year licences including 2×15MHz of spectrum apiece will be bid on with a reserve price of THB10 billion (USD307 million) per concession. The watchdog has scheduled 25 June as the only day for public consultation on the sale, with a final Memorandum set to published in the Royal Gazette on 1 July. Bidding is to start on 30 August and licences are due to be issued in September. Winners will be liable for an annual licence fee of 2% of revenues and a Universal Service Obligation of 4%, and must commit to cover 50% of the population with a 3G network within two years of licensing. Under the Memorandum, 3G licensees must reserve 40% of network capacity for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). Last month the regulator said that it would not limit the technologies utilised under the 2100MHz concessions to 3G/3.5G but would allow the rollout of so-called ‘4G’ platforms such as Long Term Evolution (LTE), which it referred to as ‘3.9G’.

Alongside its 2100MHz announcement, the NTC approved in principle a plan to reallocate unused wireless broadband spectrum in the 2.3GHz-2.4GHz and 2.5GHz-2.69GHz bands, suitable for 4G services such as mobile WiMAX and LTE, with a focus on covering rural or underserved areas. Thai newspaper The Nation quotes commission member Natee Sukonrat as saying that a new spectrum cap of up to 30MHz of 2.3GHz frequencies for each telecoms operator will be enforced. The NTC proposes to offer 2.3GHz-2.4GHz concessions for nationwide services with ten-year durations; existing allocations in this band have no expiration date, whilst state-owned TOT will be required to jettison more than half of its 64MHz of bandwidth in the range for redistribution to rivals. TOT’s sister company CAT Telecom holds 8MHz of 2.3GHz-2.4GHz spectrum, with other blocks totalling 28MHz in the hands of other government-owned entities. Last year the NTC urged TOT to return part of its spectrum, as it wanted to reallocate 2.3GHz spectrum for the promotion of WiMAX-based services, but TOT declined, according to The Nation.

The NTC plans to auction 30MHz of the country’s 40MHz unused 2.5GHz-2.69GHz spectrum to ‘small players’ to operate broadband wireless access services in remote areas where residents cannot afford internet access, with the help of funding from the regulator. The first four ten-year licences to be auctioned will cover Thailand’s provinces with the lowest gross domestic product, Natee stated, meaning that operational returns could be very low. The plans call for the NTC to ‘promote’ an initial pilot 2.5GHz wireless broadband service in four provinces, charged at THB99 (USD3) per month with a connection speed of 1Mbps (downlink), whilst for the first five years after licensing, concession winners must also cap their monthly fees at this level, with tariffs ‘supervised’ by the commission for the remaining five. 2.5GHz licence holders will also be required to provide service coverage to 25% of schools and hospitals in their provincial coverage zones in their first year, 50% in the second year, 80% in the third year and 90% in the fourth. The NTC expects to start granting licences for 2.3GHz-2.4GHz and 2.5GHz-2.69GHz bands in September this year. Previous proposals mooted awarding licences for wireless broadband access services, including WiMAX, by February 2011. The regulator also plans to ban 2100MHz winners from bidding for 2.3GHz-2.69GHz licences, and vice versa, to prevent monopolisation of frequencies.