Thai ministry says CAT must decide what to do with DTAC spectrum

29 Oct 2013

The Ministry of Information & Communication Technology in Thailand has urged CAT Telecom to decide within the next year what it plans to do with a 24.5MHz block of spectrum held by Digital Total Access Communication (DTAC). The Bangkok Post writes that the ministry is suggesting that CAT moves swiftly to utilise the spectrum ‘in the best interest of the public’.

DTAC, Thailand’s number two mobile operator by subscribers and revenues, was founded in August 1989 and awarded a build-transfer-operate (BTO) contract by CAT Telecom the following November, giving it 2×50MHz in the 1800MHz frequency band, alongside 2×10MHz in the 850MHz range. The BTO contract was originally set to run for 15 years but extended in 1996 to run until the start of 2018. Under the agreement DTAC pays CAT 30% of revenues, a figure which was increased from 25% in September 2011, and 20% in September 2006. However, with half of the 1800MHz spectrum – which is currently used for its existing 2G services – now set to expire in five years, the ICT minister Anudith Nakornthap is reportedly supporting DTAC’s proposal to use the bandwidth to provide 4G services in the country. The paper quotes the minister as saying: ‘I agree with this proposal. It’s better than doing nothing with it until the concession expires in five years’.

Last month the number two cellco laid down three options for CAT Telecom to consider concerning the unused 24.5MHz of bandwidth. Firstly, that CAT allow it to upgrade to offer 4G over the bandwidth, under CAT’s 2G licence, meaning that it continue to share revenue with CAT for the duration of the BTO contract. Secondly, that the pair launch 4G services via a different ‘wholesale/resale model similar to the one employed by CAT and True Move. And thirdly, that DTAC returns the the unused bandwidth to the industry regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), as a precursor to a new 4G auction. The paper notes that such a plan would be in line with Frequency Allocation Act, which stipulates that ‘spectra can only be allocated via an auction’. In this case, the unused bandwidth would be augmented to the 25MHz block already allocated for the auction.

The chairman of the NBTC’s telecoms committee, Col Settapong Malisuwan, says DTAC and CAT must move to resolve the situation in time to enable it to prepare for the forthcoming 4G auction, slated for September 2014. The watchdog is hoping to kick off the process in the last two weeks of September, with the winner(s) to be announced in October and licences awarded in November.