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Thai telecom industry set for a busy year (OBG update)

The telecommunications industry in Thailand is set for a busy year, with new 3G licences expected to be auctioned during the third quarter of 2012

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The telecommunications industry in Thailand is set for a busy year, with new 3G licences expected to be auctioned during the third quarter of 2012. At the same time, the sector’s regulator is working on a master plan that it plans to release in April. At the end of 2011, industry regulator the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) announced that it had approved a draft version of its 2012-16 telecoms master plan.

Among its key objectives are the twin goals of ensuring that at least 95% of the population has voice services by the end of the five-year term and that there is a minimum of 85% coverage for data services. While the NBTC’s board has approved the draft plan, it is still subject to change, with the commission intending to call for public comments in the coming months, before launching the final version in April.

 The draft master plan also sets out a timetable for long overdue auctioning of 3G licences

Importantly, the draft master plan also sets out a timetable for one of the most anticipated events in the sector’s history – the auctioning of licences to use bands on the 2.1GHz spectrum to provide 3G services.

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

This auction was originally scheduled for September 2010, but it was cancelled at the last minute due to a court injunction on behalf of one of the two state-owned telecoms companies. The NBTC now intends to conduct the auction during the third quarter of this year. In the meantime, the regulator has established a 16-member sub-committee that will be charged with setting out the conditions for the auction.

The group will include representatives of the NBTC, academics and industry experts. Many analysts expect the 3G licence auction to be a milestone for Thailand’s telecommunications sector, opening up the industry to greater competition and expanding services. Currently, state-owned firms hold sway in the sector, granting concessions to private mobile operators. Under the new system, operators will obtain their licences directly from the NBTC.

“High-speed technology, i.e. 3G or 4G, will enable new solutions, such as mobile advertisements, machine-to-machine or mobile banking, apart from traditional internet browsing,”

Wichian Mektrakarn, the CEO of Advanced Info Service, the country’s largest mobile operator, told OBG.

“It will be a channel for Thai consumers to access internet because of limited fixed-line infrastructure in Thailand. After acquiring a 2.1GHz licence, we expect mobile players to invest in a full-scale 3G network to capture growth in mobile data.”

In addition to auctioning the 3G licences, the NBTC is also in the process of opening up the 2.3 GHz and 1800 MHz bands to be used for 4G services. In December the NBTC approved an application by authorised service provider Advanced Info Service and state-owned telecommunications company TOT to offer Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology 4G services on a trial basis, which will be provided on TOT’s 2.3 GHz spectrum.

Other mobile service providers, including CAT Telecom, Total Access Communication, TrueMove and Digital Phone Company, are expected to apply for permits to conduct trials of 4G services.

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Note: This article was published on behalf of  Oxford Business Group, the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of  Thailand Business News

Oxford Business Group (OBG) is a global publishing and consultancy company which produces original economic and business intelligence on markets in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean.

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