Thai state-owned telco TOT has finally signed a THB16 billion (USD530 million) contract with SL Consortium to expand its W-CDMA/HSPA mobile network – currently covering only the Bangkok region – across the country. TOT announced the belated completion of the deal yesterday, following an auction in January which was won by SL – comprising Samart, Loxley, Huawei and Nokia Siemens Networks – but drew accusations of non-transparency from rejected bidder Ericsson. An investigation by the Office of the Auditor General into the contract bidding process is ongoing but the fixed line, broadband and 3G cellular operator has decided to risk going ahead with the expansion project, and expects to cover 70% of the country’s population with 3G/3.5G services within a year, it added in its statement. TOT also set a target of signing up a total of 1.3 million 3G subscribers – directly and via mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) – by the end of this year, up from just 213,000 reported at end-September 2010. It expects to offer 3G services in the first provinces outside Bangkok within a matter of a month or two, and the overall budget for 3G network construction has been set at just under THB20 billion, 20% internally funded and 80% via loans arranged by Bank of Ayudhya and United Overseas Bank. The telco was able to sign the major rollout deal after reforming its board following resignations over unrelated legal matters.