Thailand's year-end marked by 3G, frequency movement

04 Jan 2012

A lot happened in Thailand last week while the rest of the world was on holiday with a draft frequency map approved, 3G launches and agreements, free WiFI and progress on the one tablet per child programme.

Thailand, despite having some 3G networks, still does not have 3G licensing and most of the networks are operating under a crippling revenue share concession model. The regulator, the National Telecommunications and Broadcasting Commission, approved its 5 year frequency master plan which will pave the way for 3G spectrum auctions late next year.

A sub-committee for 3G auction was set up with some promising academics on board and a plan is expected by March.

The regulator held a public forum on 23 December, but the sentiment was clearly with freedom of speech issues with broadcasting, rather than on telecom.

Hutch subscribers were given a new year’s letter saying that they would have to move to new owner TrueMove’s network as the Hutch CDMA network value added services would be shutting down in January this year, despite a promise when TrueMove took over Hutch that services would continue uninterrupted for two years.

TrueMove apparently is already using former Hutch spectrum for its 3G network, offering 42 MBPS services in some areas (which requires 10 MHz of spectrum), despite TrueMove being allocated only 5 MHz of spectrum from concession holder CAT Telecom.

Meanwhile, state owned CAT Telecom announced it will launch its My 3G service on 10 January. The state enterprise announced a 20 billion Baht (636 million USD) five year plan and set a target of 600,000 users by the end of 2012.

The entire network arrangement is the subject of a lot of controversy and a lawsuit by Dtac to halt the deal. TrueMove (through its purchase of a company called BFKT) supplies the network to CAT, and TrueMove (through a new subsidiary called RealMove) buys capacity from CAT and to resell as an MVNO. TrueMove (the RealMove side) takes 80% of the capacity that CAT provides, capacity it (BFKT) provides to CAT. Network roll-out is dictated by TrueMove, not CAT.

The entire deal was rushed through at breakneck speed a year ago as True was facing pressure from its creditors to either land a deal or face a debt for equity swap, according to many industry analysts.

The government managed to push through one of its election promises with a launch of free WiFi in populated areas on 28 December. Phase one, to be completed by the end of January, consists of 20,000 WiFi hotspots in government offices, hospitals, police stations and other points of interest such as parks. A figure of 2 MBPS was mentioned.

Phase one was completed by state telco TOT corporation. Phase two, which will add a further 20,000 hot spots, will use money from the Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund that the independent regulator, the NBTC, takes as part of its 6% licensing fee, according to the ICT Minister.

The fact that a government minister was dictating policy for an independent regulator only makes sense in light of the frequency allocation act that allows concession holders (in this case TOT, which holds AIS’ telco concession) to deduct any USO projects costs before forwarding the concession fees to the regulator. Thus TOT has an interest in using up as much of the concession fees it receives from AIS as it can.

Sticking with AIS and TOT, TOT announced that it would be leasing the AIS’ network to expand its 3G network (which has pretty much stagnated despite a two year head start over the competition). TOT said it would pay one billion Baht (32 million USD) in rental to AIS until 2015 when the network would be returned to TOT as part of the Built-Operate-Transfer concession agreement, according to TOT’s CEO.

Never mind the tiny, insignificant detail that AIS’ network under is a Build-Transfer-Operate agreement and thus already belongs to TOT. People who read boring things such as contracts were left scratching their head in bewilderment.

Finally, Lenovo gave the Office of Basic Education Commission, Ministry of Education 600 of its Ideapad A1 7-inch Android tablets to test under the one tablet per child programme, obviously with the hope of selling more one day. The Puea Thai party campaigned in the election on one tablet per child, which then became one tablet for primary one students, then one tablet per primary one students for schools that are ready and the latest twist is that some schools are asking to buy desktop PCs instead with the budget for the tablets as there is a more urgent need and they can be shared.

Plus, as former Matichon newspaper Editor Prasong Lertratanawisute said on Twitter, schools prefer PCs as there is more room for kickbacks with desktop PCs unlike tablets which have few if any options and are too easy to compare.

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