NBTC caves to CAT's demand and grants 4G license

11 Nov 2015

At the last minute, Thailand’s telecom regulator has caved in to CAT Telecom’s blackmail demands and granted the state-owned telco a free 20 MHz licence to deploy a 4G network on 1800.

However, the midday announcement did not stop CAT Telecom’s labor union from following through on its threat and filing a motion with the central administrative court at 2 PM for an emergency injunction for today’s auction. No court ruling had been made by the evening and it is likely that the courts will make a decision whether or not to cancel the auction after the auction has already started.

CAT Telecom management celebrated the move and immediately reached out to the auction bidders saying it was open to a strategic partnership with them to develop the 20 MHz ex-Dtac spectrum on the top of the 1800-MHz band it now has permission to use, opening up a new business option for Thailand’s spectrum-starved operators just hours before they enter the bidding room.

If the injunction is granted then partnerships with the two state telcos will be the only way forward for operators.

The NBTC only granted a licence for three years until Dtac’s concession ends in 2018, further complicating matters.

Telecom consultant Allan Rasmussen from Yozzo told TelecomAsia that the regulator was simply kicking the can down the road for another set of regulators and government to deal with the problem under a new set of rules with a new frequency act and a new digital economy act.

Summarizing the latest turn of events, Rasmussen said, “NBTC walks away from the negotiation table with CAT, with exactly what they came for – being able to hold the auctions no matter what, and deal with issues later.

“Questions is however, if the NBTC will be able to deal with issue later, as they are faced with a change in responsibility and setup [with the new digital economy laws]. Even then, NBTC is not exactly known for actually regulating the market.

“CAT cannot use a three-year deal for anything. They wanted a piece of steak like TOT (TOT got a free 60 MHz 2300-MHz 4G licence granted by the NBTC but under different terms, ending in 2027), and it looked like NBTC threw them a bone, but in reality, it isn’t even tofu.

“But let’s see. We have witnessed things like this before in Thailand where a few months turns into years or trials into full commercial service,” he said possibly referring to TrueMove’s 850-MHz test network that was unintentionally rolled out nationwide without a license.

Rasmussen said that on balance, given Prime Minister General Prayuth Chanocha’s comments and the need to boost the economy, “I think the auction will go ahead and then in the period after we will see stories and decisions where you and I will scream.”

However, none of that resonated with CAT Telecom’s labor union who followed through with their threat to file for an injunction.

The injunction request was simple, arguing that continuing with the auction today would cause irreparable damage as ownership of 1800-MHz was still pending another lawsuit filed in 2013 at the end of the concession. The request for the injunction simply asked for a delay until the previous lawsuit had been decided.

CAT labor union president Thaworn Pumtien said that if the injunction were not granted and CAT were to win the lawsuit, the damage to the industry would be immense especially to CAT and to the user of CAT’s spectrum.

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