2100MHz licences finally in cellcos’ hands; plans emerge for rollouts

13 Dec 2012

The chairman of Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), Thares Punsri, on 11 December 2012 signed and handed over the 2100MHz 3G mobile network operating licences to the three winners of the mid-October auction, Advanced Info Service (AIS, via its Advanced Wireless Network subsidiary), Digital Total Access Communications (DTAC, via its DTAC Network unit) and True Corp subsidiary Real Future. As previously reported by CommsUpdate, the 15-year licences became valid from 7 December, allowing the private sector operators to roll out 3G networks and services outside of state revenue sharing build-operate-transfer (BTO) contracts. The three licence winners have requested a combined 20 million mobile phone numbers for their 2100MHz 3G networks during the first year, Thai newspaper The Nation reports, and the NBTC is expected to allocate the numbers by March, with the first services thought likely to be launched in April. Largest cellco AIS alone had been expected to request ten million 3G numbers initially. Chairman Thares also declared that now the 3G licensing process was wrapped up – barring any further problems from pending legal challenges to the auction from a group of senators – the NBTC would focus on its next priority to auction 1800MHz licences for 4G LTE services.

NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasit remarked that all three licence holders will be able to establish their new networks in major cities within a few months and complete coverage of 50% of the population within the first year, beating a licensing requirement to cover half the population within two years; a further stipulation says that 80% population coverage must be achieved in three years. Takorn also noted that the three companies must comply with regulations governing the speed of mobile data transmission and standards of telecoms service quality. Another condition of 3G service launch is that the licensees must offer voice and data service tariffs at rates 15% lower than the average of all operators in the market as of 7 December; the NBTC is currently calculating the benchmark prices.

AIS expects to launch the first phase of its 2100MHz 3G services by June 2013 at the latest, and some earlier projections said it could launch an initial service by the end of March. This week AIS’s board approved a CAPEX budget of THB13 billion (USD424 million) for 2013 to invest in 2100MHz network rollout.