It's a tough life being an MVNO in Thailand

20 Jun 2016

It is a tough life being an MVNO in Thailand. One minute you are the new kid on the block with all eyes on you offering a simple, fair, unlimited data plan for first-time smartphone users, the next reality kicks in and the sky-high costs from your MNO results in images of people burning your SIM cards popping up everywhere on social media in Thailand.

Poor Penguin.

To put things in context, the cheapest big data plan now available in Thailand would be that from Dtac offering 16 GB for 299 baht ($8.50) a month. Conversely, the ostensibly low-cost eco-MVNO that was set up by ex-Dtac execs now give their subscriber 3GB for 300 Baht a month. Or gives whatever subscribers they have left after the great SIM burning episode.

Thailand has a lot of MVNOs, 39 according to Allan Rasmussen at consultancy Yozzo. Of these only six have launched and all of them now on the True-CAT 850 fudge - in which CAT (ostensibly the MNO) hired True to build out and run the network and then leased out 80% of it back to True (as MVNO) leaving CAT with 20% to resell to all the other MVNOs. Oh, and all other MVNOs have to share their marketing plans with TrueMove via CAT for capacity planning purposes.

Despite being part of the licensing rules from the first 2100-MHz auction, none of the licensees have opened up their networks to an MVNO. Most either just price it so high that it makes no sense to talk to them or give potential business partners the run-around.

Yes, the NBTC may have ordered all licensees to allow MVNOs to take up up to 10% of their capacity but there is nothing to stop them pricing it so high that it does not make economic sense.

Even Jasmine, which won last December’s 900-MHz auction only to default after not being to pay the $2.1 billion, has two MVNO licences.

Last week the playing field for being an MVNO went from bad to worse with AIS and Dtac rolling out YouTube-focused packages.

AIS throws in 6GB of YouTube streaming over a year in a $1.42 (50 baht) SIM and earlier Dtac launched a package with unlimited off-peak (midnight-8 AM) YouTube video.

Net neutrality and a level playing field are arguments that seem to be totally missing from the argument in the market.

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