AIS: interest rises in the east, sits in the west for ‘secret’ talks

28 Feb 2011

The Bangkok Post writes that China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile network operator by users, and its Japanese cellular counterpart NTT DoCoMo, have expressed an interest in proposing business models to financially support the operations of Thai cellco Advanced Info Service (AIS). Thailand’s largest mobile provider by subscribers faces the possibility of being hit by a compensation bill of THB74 billion (USD2.38 billion) stemming from past changes to contracts with state agencies, with the knock-on risk of defaulting on the large damages payment. This month senior executives of the two telecoms giants ‘secretly’ met Thailand’s Information and Communications Technology Minister Juti Krairiksh and three executives of state-run telco TOT – the issuer of AIS’ build-transfer-operate (BTO) network concession – in Spain to discuss a future role for the foreign firms, a source from the ICT ministry said. SK Telecom of South Korea has also been kept abreast of developments by the Thai government, according to the report. Paraphrasing Mr Juti, the source added that the minister raised concerns with China Mobile and DoCoMo about the ‘worst case scenario’ of AIS defaulting on the payment of the potential compensation bill, and stressed the need to ‘find a prospective operator to carry on the mobile leader’s business.’ Juti reportedly requested that DoCoMo and China Mobile submit business proposals to him within two weeks. The ICT Ministry is waiting for final calculations of compensation claims from TOT and sister operator CAT Telecom as well as private operators serving on a committee overseeing the talks on the damages case.