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Seriously ? Thailand to auction 3G licences in first quarter 2012

The long-delayed 3G service license auction has made Thailand among the last countries in Southeast Asia to fully deploy advanced wireless technology.

Boris Sullivan

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3G old phone

Thailands telecommunications and broadcasting regulator expects to auction off licenses to operate the frequency spectrum used for third-generation mobile phone services in the first quarter of 2012 at the earliest after outstanding legal issues are resolved, an acting member of the regulator said.

Do you really believe this ? Thailand 3G debacle has been the most laughable and ludicrous Thai soap  for several years. Believe it or not but Thailand is actually the only Asean country without a commercially available 3G offer. Even Laos has one.

3G old phone

The long-delayed 3G service license auction has made Thailand among the last countries in Southeast Asia to fully deploy advanced wireless technology.

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.

This high-tech imbroglio has to do with Thailand’s lack of a so-called 3G mobile network, in short, 3G — or third generation — technology allows cell phones to use more bandwidth. This is useful — and some would say necessary — as people increasingly use Web-capable smartphones like the iPhone and Google’s Android phone for work and play.

“The earliest the auction can happen should be by the first quarter of next year,” acting National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commissioner Natee Sukonrat said Tuesday in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires.”The auction of the 3G licenses have to be delayed until we have the new organization,” the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, which will have the legal authority to conduct the licensing.

The independent body, which will supervise Thailands telecom and broadcasting sectors, is likely to be formally established by mid-September, about one or two months after a new parliament is formed, Natee said

But what if a new government with ruling Thaksin proxies (or clone depending on your personal preferences) is in charge ? My guess is that news plans will probably get out of the drawer, considering Thaksin’s large stake in telecommunication business.

Most of Thailand’s Southeast Asian neighbors already have 3G capabilities, and 4G is already being used elsewhere in Asia. So why bother and just call it a day for 3G ?

In September 2010, a Thai court issued an injunction against the planned auction of 3G mobile licenses to private operators after state-owned firms CAT Telecom and TOT Corp. PCL filed petitions challenging the authority of the Thailands National Telecommunications Commission to allocate the 2.1-gigahertz frequency spectrum used for 3G services.

Why would they do that ?

Private operators in Thailand currently operate second-generation mobile-phone services under concessions granted by either TOT or CAT Telecom, which require revenue sharing of around 20%-30% with the state companies. Can you imagine the happy returns of such cash cow, considering that Thailand has more than 64 millions mobile subscribers.

But 3G is about to ruin this convenient arrangement. The winning 3G licensees would have to pay an annual fee of only 6% of their revenue to the NTC. Get the difference ?

Thailand’s endless 3G saga has finally find an outcome: back to the good old fashioned way of dealing problems by giving happy bureaucrats a state monopoly. Never mind the private sector and the rest of the population: sure they will eventually have to pay more for less service, but who cares ?

In the end, the botched 3G auction seemed to have been just a convenient, but costly, way to get rid of any private or foreign competitors to enter the game.

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