Thai SIM checks confirm current pecking order

05 Aug 2015
Daily News

Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications commission has announced the number of prepaid SIM cards that have been registered before the July 31 cut-off date.

The numbers reported by the local press vary somewhat. Public broadcaster ThaiPBS quoted the NBTC numbers as AIS on 34.7 million, Dtac 21.5 million and True 13 million out of a total of 69.5 million prepaid SIM cards.

The big three together add up to 69.2 million, which means only 300,000 other SIM cards were registered to CAT and TOT and its MVNOs.

In Q1 the number of prepaid SIM cards in use was 85.5 million.

Prior to the registration AIS, Dtac and TrueMove market share stood at 46.5%, 28.4% and 23.8%, with TOT and CAT making up the small change.

A rough calculation mixing published Q1 postpaid numbers and the new prepaid numbers would put the market share of AIS, Dtac and True at 48.2% (+1.7%), 30.9% (+1.6%) and 20.6% (-3.2%), respectively.

Allan Rasmussen from ICT consultancy Yozzo told TelecomAsia, “One takeaway from the SIM registration was the low number from True. Most people in the industry expected this could be the year where True would take second place from DTAC, having sailed through introduction of recent regulations, launching 4G commercially while AIS was a sitting duck, and getting a much needed capital injection from China. However, the low SIM registration tells another story.

“The most shocking numbers or lack thereof are from the MVNOs. Apparently, so small that not even NBTC bothered to share it with the public. It also puts TOT and CAT in an awkward position, right now they are negotiating why they should be allowed to keep spectrum. If they don’t come up with a feasible plan on how to get more MVNOs and wholesales then that would be a good question.”

However, the silver lining is that this would free TrueMove from the NBTC’s price ceiling for the foreseeable future. The NBTC has announced a price cap for those with significant market power as part of the 4G licences, defined as an operator with at least 25% of the market.

But while the news is bad for True, it is devastating for CAT and TOT, both of which are fighting to convince the public, the government and potential partners they do have a future. Both telcos operate primarily through an MVNO model and despite first mover advantage, free spectrum and bottomless pockets from the taxpayer, now have but 300,000 subscribers to show for all their efforts.

Between them, the two state telcos CAT and TOT initially invested around $1.71 billion (60 billion baht) into their networks, not including upgrades and ongoing maintenance. That works out at around $5,700 (200,000 baht) of taxpayer money per subscriber.

The NBTC has since announced a further one-month extension to the SIM registration program, with reports that it may be further extending the deadline for three or even four months.

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