The long-delayed auction for 3G mobile broadband licences is scheduled for Sept 22-28, according to an official announcement published late Thursday in the Royal Gazette. Bidders must submit proposals to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) by Aug 30 for screening. Those that pass will be invited to take part in the auctions.
Col Natee Sukonrat, an NTC member, acknowledged that the process could be disrupted if opponents seek a court order to put it on hold.
Attempts to bring 3G services to Thailand have been held up for nearly five years because of frequent changes in government and also because of questions about the NTC’s legal authority to award licences.
The NTC aims to award three licences with a starting bid price of 12.8 billion baht each.
As long as Thailand lags behind its neighbours in issuing 3G broadband network licences, Thais will lose out on opportunities in exploring the services such as e-books and remote health monitoring. Thailand is the last remaining country in the Asean group without 3G services, with Vietnam and Laos finally receiving licences this year.
Mobile phones and iPhone 3G are available since nearly two years in Thailand, but the implementation of the third generation network, has been considerably delayed.
The mobile business is a highly political issue in Thailand because it is the mobile phone concession awarded to AIS (subsidiary of the holding company Shin Corp), who allowed Thaksin to make a fortune in a record time and subsequently become the most popular politician of the kingdom’s history. It is also the resale of Shin Corp to Singapore’s Temasek fund that was largely responsible for his downfall.
A surge in demand for 3G licensing in the Asean region has brought accelerated expansion in investment from Internet gateway providers.
This new market potential gives Thailand the opportunity to become a connecting hub in Asean, the Bangkok Post reported.
New 3G licensing in Cambodia and Laos is driving demand for Internet bandwidth in the region and opening opportunities for international gateway business in Thailand.
“Indochina is a growing market because it has a limited international network, some of which is controlled by governments. For example, while Vietnam has 3G, it mostly connects through Hong Kong and still uses Thailand as a backup network. The Indochina market brings better bandwidth at the same price,” said Wittaya Laksawut, assistant vice president at JasTel Network.
This year, the company will expand its international gateway and cable stations to neighbouring countries in order to respond to the market.
Fee reduction will allow expansion
The National Telecommunication Commission of Thailand (NTC) is considering a reduction in cost of type 3 licence fees. This will allow service providers to invest more and expand their networks ahead of liberalisation in 2015. If all local network providers have expanded nationwide when the market fully opens, then foreign companies could have to find partners in Thailand in order to expand.