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Don Sambandaraksa

Analyzing the aftermath of Thailand's 900-MHz debacle

The final countdown came and went at the NBTC with no sign of Jas Mobile CEO Pete Bodharamik. Jas Mobile has failed to pay the first $230 million (8-billion baht) installment of its sky-high $2.14 billion (75-billion baht) winning bid for a 900-MHz license and thus forfeits its license and will be blacklisted.

To put into context how big the bid was, the estimated price of the spectrum according to the regulator’s own models was just $458 million (16 billion baht).

Given the torrent of rumors and leaks, perhaps this was not surprising. Jas’ preferred bank, Bangkok Bank, had repeatedly said they had not approved the loan and other publications said that its strategic partners had got cold feet at the huge spectrum cost.

A glimmer of hope appeared when one of the leading English-language newspapers in Thailand published a story quoting an anonymous source in Jasmine that Huawei had helped secure Chinese funding. A quick email to Huawei PR, however, got a reply, “Huawei does not provide any vendor financing for any carrier’s spectrum needs. On the usual capex-based network rollout, we would consider this or try to provide advice, but not for spectrum.”

So what happens next?

Talking to reporters gathered for the big signing National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission Secretary-General Takorn Tantasit said he would write to the Prime Minister and Junta Chairman General Prayuth Chanocha with two options for the leader to choose from: Either offer the spectrum to the runner-up bidder (AIS) or conduct a new auction with a starting price of 75.654 billion baht.

Takorn said the offer would only be to the runner up (AIS) and there was “no point” in inviting the second runner up (Dtac) for talks.

He also said the new bid, which would happen in four months, would be open to TrueMove to bid as well. True has already won 10 MHz of 900-MHz spectrum and Jas the other 10 MHz. Thailand only has 20 MHz of 900-MHz spectrum available as the country also operates 850-MHz 3G (by True).

Scrapping this spectrum cap has come out of the blue and would mean that TrueMove now has a chance to control all the sub-GHz spectrum currently available for telecommunications in Thailand.

Takorn said that if there were no bidders at this high price then the spectrum would be put aside for one year until a new bid is formulated.

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