Despite the delayed auctioning of 3G spectrum in Thailand, mobile operators are moving forward with their 3G plans as data services continue to be the main driver of growth, according to a new report from Pyramid Research.

Despite 3G Setbacks the Mobile Market Will Drive Future Growth offers a precise profile of the country’s telecommunications, media, and technology sectors based on proprietary data from Pyramid’s research in the market. It provides detailed competitive analysis of both the fixed and mobile sectors, tracks the market shares of technologies and services, and monitors the introduction and spread of new technologies.

3G mobiles iphone smartphones
Data services have been the main driver of growth in the mobile market this year, which is why operators are eager to forge ahead with 3G before the auction

Operators have moved forward with 3G implementation in two ways: 1 receiving approval to upgrade networks to HSPA, and 2 signing MVNO agreements with TOT, notes Emily Smith, Analyst at Pyramid Research. “These solutions would serve as stopgap measures before the 3G auction, which could happen by early 2012,” she says.TOT is currently the only 2.1GHz 3G operator, serving the greater Bangkok region.

TOT plans to invest $648 million in HSPA to cover 50 percent of the population by mid-2011, giving TOT a head start over the competition.

“Data services have been the main driver of growth in the mobile market this year, which is why operators are eager to forge ahead with 3G before the auction,”

Smith explains. “Pyramid expects that 76 percent of Thai mobile subscribers will be data users by 2015.”According to the report, smartphone sales grew strongly at 18 percent from 2008 to 2010, and are expected to grow at an even higher 30 percent CAGR from 2010 to 2015.

Along with this growth, usage of data applications like email, video, and Internet browsing will grow, as well. Data cards will exhibit the highest growth at a 63 percent CAGR, as 3G networks, which currently are only operated by TOT and only cover the Bangkok area, are extended to cover 50 percent of the population by June 2011.

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The concessions of the top three players – Advanced Info Service, DTAC and True Move – have come under heavy scrutiny by the Democrat-led government. AIS, founded by Thaksin Shinawatra, has drawn most of the attention as officials focus on agreements that favoured companies linked to the telecoms tycoon-turned politician.

Attempts to review the concessions began under the government of Surayudh Chulanont after the coup that ousted Thaksin in late 2006. Sitthichai Pokaiya-udom, the ICT minister of the day, and Gen Saprang Kalayanamit as chairman of TOT, asked Council of State to interpret the concession amendments. The government’s legal adviser concluded that none of the amendments followed the required procedures and thus breached the 1992 law.

The argument gained more weight when the Supreme Court ruled on Feb 26 last year in the assets seizure case against Thaksin. The court ruled that Thaksin had abused his authority to secure changes favourable to companies in Shin Corp, which his family sold to Temasek Holdings of Singapore in 2006.

TOT is expected to start the bid to procure the network within three months.

With 3G granted to state monopoly, private companies will now have to approach TOT and CAT if they want to take part in this new, lucrative market, without clear and transparent rules

The long-delayed 3G service license auction has made Thailand among the last countries in Southeast Asia to fully deploy advanced wireless technology. The process has repeatedly been delayed due mainly to the absence of an independent body to regulate broadcasting frequencies, as well as changes in state administrations.

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