The Thai government yesterday approved the 3G mobile network expansion plans of state-run telco TOT, including an investment budget of THB19.9 billion (USD648 million) to expand its existing W-CDMA/HSPA network in Bangkok by rolling out a total of around 5,400 base stations across the country. Following a series of revisions to TOT’s budget, the Cabinet gave the nod to a plan which projects 50% of the country’s population being covered by the UMTS network in a project covering up to 15 provinces which should take around six months to complete. The plan stalled last December as TOT failed to acquire the necessary approvals from a series of state departments. The full-service telco – the country’s only 2100MHz/1900MHz 3G network operator – still has to secure funding and technology rollout partners for the 3G expansion. It announced that it will invite bids from 3G network suppliers and publish details of auction rules and conditions on its website, with successful bidders expected to facilitate the launch of commercial services over parts of the national network within eight months. ZTE and Huawei are tipped as favourites in the equipment auction.
The national expansion will give TOT a further headstart on its would-be next-generation mobile competitors, whilst the country’s 2100MHz licence auction for private operators remains suspended under a court order requested by TOT’s sister company CAT earlier this month. Cellular market leader Advanced Info Service (AIS) announced today that it would resurrect previous plans to form a national partnership with TOT to expand 3G services in the absence of its own licence. AIS, which currently offers limited 3G services on 900MHz spectrum under its build-transfer-operate (BTO) revenue-sharing concession with TOT, told Reuters that it will launch a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service over the state-run firm’s infrastructure by the end of the year, joining five independent MVNOs that operate over the existing Bangkok HSPA network. AIS’s CEO Wichian Mektrakarn said: ‘Basically, our plan is to sell SIM cards for TOT, and another aspect is network roaming, which will enable our clients to use data services that run on TOT networks … Now we don’t have the [3G licence] auction, we’re going back to the previous plan.’