Thai 4G auction bidding exceeds USD2bn; CAT's lawyers stay quiet

12 Nov 2015

Thailand’s 4G 1800MHz auction which began as scheduled yesterday is continuing today after bids for two 2×15MHz licences reached THB74.41 billion (USD2.07 billion) in 75 rounds of competition between four companies, the Bangkok Post reports. As of 11am (Thai time) today bids for the first and second licence blocks stood at THB37.01 billion and THB37.40 billion, more than double the base prices for each concession set at THB15.91 billion by the regulator, the National Broadcasting & Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). The country’s three largest mobile operators are bidding: Advanced Info Service (AIS, via Advanced Wireless Network), Digital Total Access Communication (DTAC, via DTAC TriNet) and True Corp (via TrueMove H Universal Communication); alongside Jas Mobile Broadband, a start-up subsidiary of Jasmine International, the parent of Thai fixed network operator Triple T Broadband (3BB).

Cellular market leader AIS is favourite to bid highest for the first block of 1800MHz spectrum because unlike its two main rivals it does not currently operate commercial LTE services, having dedicated all its 2100MHz spectrum to 3G services. True Corp is thought most likely to win the second licence, as its commercial 2100MHz LTE services operate in a limited portion of its 2100MHz bandwidth. DTAC is relatively spectrum-rich, and has already augmented its existing 2100MHz 4G services by switching on commercial 1800MHz LTE coverage in downtown Bangkok earlier this month, using refarmed GSM frequencies, albeit under terms expiring in 2018.

Ahead of the auction, it was reported that the NBTC had made a promise to state-owned operator CAT Telecom to allow it to utilise a dormant block of 1800MHz spectrum to develop 4G services in exchange for dropping a threatened lawsuit aimed at stopping the licence bidding. According to an NBTC source quoted by the Post, the regulator’s telecom committee would approve CAT’s proposal to use 20MHz of 1800MHz frequencies which were originally issued by CAT to DTAC under the latter’s build-transfer-operate (BTO) 2G GSM concession, although CAT will only be granted access to the BTO frequencies until the concession’s expiry in 2018 instead of the ten-year period it requested. Similarly, CAT’s sister telco TOT recently received long-awaited regulatory permission to develop 4G in existing 2.3GHz-2.4GHz bands, as part of measures seen as ‘pacifying’ the operator to prevent legal action against the NBTC’s spectrum auction plans.

The NBTC will hold another auction for two 4G (technology-neutral) licences in the 900MHz band on 15 December.