4G plans abound at True, Samart, CAT

11 Feb 2013

Thai newspaper The Nation reports that True Corp plans to introduce 4G mobile broadband services in the 2100MHz spectrum range in Bangkok in April – around the same time as it and its two main rivals AIS and DTAC are scheduled to launch their 3G 2100MHz networks following their licence wins in Q4 2012. According to the unnamed True source quoted in the newspaper, the quadruple-play group has already ordered imported 4G network equipment and plans to launch 4G services in selected commercial areas in Bangkok. The report states that the 2100MHz licences are technology-neutral, although operators’ freedom to launch whichever technology they wish has not yet been officially confirmed by the regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), which has none the less allowed AIS, DTAC and True to go ahead with 4G LTE trials in conjunction with state-owned companies TOT and CAT. True, meanwhile, continues to seek a foreign partner to develop its 3G/4G business, with one likely suitor China Mobile reportedly in current talks with the Thai firm. True’s chief financial officer Noppadol Dej-udom declined to confirm the report about China Mobile, saying only that talks on a possible tie up with a foreign partner are ongoing. ‘Choosing a lifelong spouse will take as long as it requires. We prefer to take as much as time needed to make the right decision on this important subject,’ Noppadol said.

Elsewhere, another Thai company has revealed its 4G intentions, reports The Bangkok Post. Samart Corporation, which currently offers 3G MVNO services over TOT’s network, is reported to be likely to receive permission to trial fourth-generation services on TOT’s 2100MHZ spectrum, paving the way for commercial 4G services under a partnership model. ‘The 4G trial is expected to take place this month,’ said Youngyuth Wattanasin, TOT’s acting chief executive. Samart recently proposed installing LTE equipment in TOT’s network, under a phase involving 100 sites. Mr Youngyuth added that if the market response is good, then TOT will move forward and introduce the service commercially.

TOT previously contracted SL Consortium, which includes Samart and another Thai group Loxley, to install 5,300 3G 2100MHz base stations under a network phase scheduled to launch commercially on 22 February with 4,000 base stations, mainly in Bangkok and major provinces; all 5,300 base stations are set to be activated in May as planned, Youngyuth stated.

In related news, TOT’s fellow state-run firm CAT Telecom has revealed plans for long-term investment in data communications and broadband cellular services while cutting costs to seek revenue to offset the looming loss of its build-transfer-operate (BTO) concession fees (as both CAT and TOT must pass all BTO revenue to the state from 1 January 2014). The Nation reports that the State Enterprise Policy Office’s committee last week approved CAT’s 2013-2017 strategy for a financial turnaround to cope with the end of its concession. CAT chief executive officer Kittisak Sriprasert said that the strategy would help the state telecom agency to survive. The turnaround plan includes investment in a 4G LTE network. CAT’s BTO 2G mobile concessions granted to AIS subsidiary Digital Phone Co and True Corp’s True Move unit will end this September, while that of DTAC expires in 2018. Kittisak said CAT’s 3G 850MHz wholesale-resell business (in partnership with True Corp’s True Move H operation) had expected total revenue of around THB25 billion (USD832 million) this year. About THB22 billion of this would be from wholesaling the 3G bandwidth to True Corp’s subsidiary Real Move (providing cellular services under the True Move H brand). The rest will be contributed by CAT’s resale of this 3G service under its ‘My’ retail brand.

According to CAT estimates, its total revenue this year – excluding concession revenue – will be THB39.31 billion, with expenses of THB41.12 billion and EBITDA at THB4.17 billion. If the concession revenue is included, its total revenue this year is estimated at THB64.95 billion with expenses of THB55.15 billion. In the first eleven months of 2012 CAT’s total revenue, including concessions, stood at THB43.31 billion with net profit of THB11.33 billion.