Thailand is missing out on the mobile broadband boom because the lack of any clear authority by the regulator to set 3G auctions has created a gap in the market.
"Thailand is missing out in enjoying the advantage of 3G services," said True group CFO Noppadol Dej-Udom.
He noted that the country has only about seven million fixed lines and less than three million of those can handle broadband. So 17 million of the country's 20 million households don't have access to broadband. "This is very bad for the country. The quickest and easiest way to introduce broadband in those areas is through 3G," he said.
Its recent acquisition of Hutchison Thailand gives True 800,000 subscribers, but more importantly 10 MHz of spectrum in the 850-MHz band. So with its existing 5 MHz in the same band it will have 15 MHz. True will upgrade the frequency for 3G this year and has enabled CAT to stop losing money on the previously high interconnect charges from Hutch.
"This will give True first-mover advantage in the Thai market where people have been waiting not only for data service but for high-speed wireless data service," he said.
The new arrangement, Noppadol said, is structured according to the new telecom law and can be sustained in the future. "We no longer have a concession type of arrangement for the Hutch deal, but of course True Move, AIS and Dtac are still imprisoned in that concession arrangement."
Casting a shadow on the deal, Dtac last month filed a suit seeking a judicial review of the deal it said was anti-competitive.
To raise ARPU on broadband services True started trials at the end of last year of Docsis 3 cable-modem technology, which offers speeds of up to 400 Mbps per home. True launched the service with a minimum speed of 10 Mbps and a maximum speed of 100 Mbps in March. Noppadol said it can now compete head-to-head with DSL providers that offer a maximum speed of 8 Mbps.
The company added 122,000 broadband users last year and had just over 800,000 subs at the end of 2010. Less than 20% of users are outside the Bangkok metropolitan area, but Noppadol said that will change this year with the launch of nationwide coverage with Docsis 3. By the end of the year it aims to cover 26 cities and will invest some 9.5 billion baht ($312 million) over the next three years.
He explained that the primary use of hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) networks is for pay TV, which is what True plans to offer in addition to broadband service. The HFC network gives it the ability to offer almost an unlimited number of channels, including high-def offerings.