One of the most controversial points of Thailand’s new NBTC Act that is due to become law any day now is how it allows the Digital Economy Commission, chaired by the Prime Minister, to allocate non-commercial spectrum before it gets to the telecoms regulator.
Too much power concentrated on the executive, nay concentrated on one person, is never a good thing.
However, in yet another case of rule-by-law rather than rule-of-law, the telecommunications regulator has acted in anticipation of the new frequency act and has allocated a whopping 10 MHz of valuable 850-MHz spectrum to the police to roll out a 4G service.
In addition to the free spectrum, there is a budget of $99.6 million (3.5 billion baht) for this year.
Nor was there any public hearing (not that there was one with the recent $2.1 billion 10 MHz 900-MHz re-auction either) as stipulated by the law. But at least 900-MHz had an article 44 (absolute power) order making it legal. Again, rule by law, rather than rule of law.
The 2 billion dollar question is what will that spectrum be used for (if at all) when there is no emergency?
If the junta really wanted to give police a communications network for emergencies, they could have just allocated 5 MHz, or even gone the way of Tetra which would have made much more sense given the use-case scenario.
More likely it will be a backdoor concession under the guise of a public-safety network.
The question is who will be the ones to roll out the new network? Could it be Samart or Loxley, perennial winners of big government projects, both of which have been toying with MVNOs and wanting a big break into the mobile space? Or CAT Telecom with its renewed focus on national security? Or could they even ask one of the commercial telcos?
Then again, why roll-out a new network when piggybacking on an existing 850 network could be much more cost effective? True/CAT’s 850-MHz network is adjacent to the newly allocated spectrum and expanding that network to use 20 MHz would probably take minutes for a software reconfiguration.
All of that will become clearer as time goes by. What is almost certain is that none of the incumbents will rock the boat as nobody would want to be struck off the shortlist for this lucrative partnership.