50MHz spectrum cap proposed; auction delay to Q4 on cards?

27 Mar 2015

Thailand’s ICT Ministry and the National Broadcasting & Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) have reached an agreement that all private sector and state-owned telecoms operators should have their mobile spectrum bandwidth usage capped at 2×50MHz each. Thai newspaper The Nation reports that the cap is aimed at ensuring that ‘smaller operators’ can obtain bandwidth at the upcoming technology-neutral mobile licence auction(s) so as to create more competition to private sector incumbents AIS, DTAC and True Corp, according to NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasith. The NBTC will have to issue new regulations to enforce the 50MHz maximum, which will automatically apply to those currently exceeding the cap. although the cap will apply only to spectra actually in use.

Meanwhile, ICT Minister Pornchai Rujiprapa said the technology-neutral (4G) licence auction might not take place until the fourth quarter of this year, instead of its tentatively scheduled date of August, pending Cabinet approval of the latest plans of the ministry and regulator. Mr Takorn says the NBTC will proceed with auctioning the 1800MHz bands relinquished by True and DPC (part of AIS) – offering two licences each with 12.5MHz bandwidth – followed by two 10MHz licences in the 900MHz band (being returned by AIS), while the watchdog aims to reclaim a total of 50MHz of bandwidth on the 1800MHz spectrum from DTAC in phases to create four additional 12.5MHz licences. CAT Telecom granted 50MHz to DTAC under a build-transfer-operate (BTO) concession, but the private sector cellco utilises only half of it, and Takorn insists the NBTC will initially reclaim the unused block. Mr Pornchai added that the NBTC might have to compensate CAT if the state agency agrees to transfer the bandwidth for auction before the BTO concession ends in 2018. To this end, the NBTC has proposed a special fund to pay compensation to state agencies if they transfer frequencies for reallocation, a suggestion which has been passed to the Council of State for potential addition to a new draft Frequency Allocation Bill. Takorn said the NBTC would also review the starting bid price for 12.5MHz bandwidth, which was previously proposed at THB11.26 billion (USD345 million).

Further, the government is aiming to add 64MHz of unused 2.3GHz spectrum held by TOT to the upcoming 4G auctions; the ICT Ministry has been asked to appropriate the 2.3GHz resource from the state-owned telco. There have been suggestions that in return TOT might be allowed to retain control of some 900MHz spectrum which it previously issued to AIS under a BTO contract ending this September.