Some countries which have lagged behind on 3G mass rollouts are looking to harness LTE to catch up. In Thailand, third-ranked cellco True has switched on the country‘s first 4G network, running in the 2.1-GHz band.
This is an unusual band for LTE, which may limit True's choice of devices. It is used almost globally for W-CDMA/HSPA and most operators plan to continue expanding that 3G capacity, rolling out LTE either in new frequencies or in refarmed GSM spectrum. However, the exceptions will be operators which have limited 3G coverage, or which plan to switch off 3G before GSM, keeping that for voice and universal coverage.
The Thai carriers fall into the former category - and state-owned TOT also plans to launch LTE - alongside 3G - in 2.1-GHz, so at least there will be roaming opportunities. But True has got in first, switching on an initial 500 base stations for LTE and 500 for 3G in the same band (some will be common base stations using a multimode architecture). These are in densely populated urban areas, mainly in capital Bangkok.
The new equipment adds broadband capacity to True's existing 3G network, which runs in 850-MHz spectrum, which is good for coverage. In this band, it has 13,000 sites deployed nationwide.
The LTE capabilities will be expanded this year beyond Bangkok's central areas, to 15 major provinces including Chon Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Surat Thani and Ayutthaya. By the end of the year, True says it will have 2,000 LTE base stations active, and 5,000 2.1-GHz 3G sites, and will also increase the number of 850-MHz 3G sites to 14,000, in a strategy aiming to balance coverage and capacity.
All this will add up to an additional 15 billion baht ($510 million) in network capex this year, and the operator is targeting 6 million LTE subscribers by year-end, a sharp leap from its current 3G base of 3.2 million.
True‘s 4G subscription packages start from 699 baht ($23.70) per month for an “unlimited” data service, targeted at the small number of LTE devices available in Thailand.