Thailand has made a major breakthrough on the path to 3G with the passage of a frequency master plan, the lack of which was the reason for the court injunction back in 2010 that derailed the spectrum auction.
The plan also sets a timeline for spectrum to be returned from various state agencies for reallocation. Concession spectrum will be returned when the concession ends (2013 for TrueMove, 2015 for AIS and 2018 for Dtac).
Broadcast radio spectrum will be returned in five years, broadcast television in ten years and telecom spectrum in 15 years, less time already spent under a license. This means TOT will have to relinquish its 15 MHz of 2.1-GHz in 13 years.
However, the passage was not without controversy. The master plan had to be approved by the full board, both broadcasting and telecommunications and in the end, the 11-member board voted 6-4 in favor of the plan. Most of the broadcasting commissioners rallied against a plan, which they decried as too slow and capitulating to the status quo.
Meanwhile, the current networks are in for a bumpy ride.
Dtac has turned its attention to network reliability following a series of network crashes around the new year. A bushfire and a car crash taking out two separate, redundant cables in a matter of minutes was the cause of one nationwide outage, the others from hiccups in the rip and replace network upgrade, replacing decade-old NSN equipment with Ericsson and Huawei gear, an upgrade that is scheduled to continue until the end of 2013.
Dtac has announced capex at $1.3 billion (40 billion baht) for this two-year network upgrade and 3G license fees if the auction goes ahead as expected. It has promised nationwide 3G in every district by the end of 2012 with or without a 2.1-GHz license. It claims 1.1 million 3G users on its 850-MHz network.
TrueMove is feeling the heat after first a senate committee, then the ICT Ministry, ruled that its 3G agreement with current concession-holder CAT Telecom is illegal, chiefly for not complying with public-private-partnership laws by not having cabinet approval. That said, all guns are trained on CAT Telecom and its executives for the time being, not TrueMove.