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Bidders air concerns on 3G-auction system's reliability

Given that it will be the first 2.1-gigahertz (GHz) spectrum auction in Thailand, most of the questions asked by the three bidders yesterday in a meeting with the industry watchdog about bidding details focused on the auction system's reliability and the back-up plan should anything go wrong. The auction is to be held Tuesday.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) met with representatives of the three bidders - Advanced Info Service (AIS)'s Advanced Wireless Network; Total Access Communication (DTAC)'s DTAC Network; and True Corp's Real Future - yesterday to explain to them the auction details. The watchdog has kept to its pre-auction schedule, unfazed by court cases hanging over its head and the threat of more cases to come.

NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasit said yesterday that the Central Administrative Court had yet to decide if it would accept a petition from telecom scholar Anupap Tiralap submitted on Thursday, seeking a court order to suspend the auction. Three similar cases against the auction have already been filed at the court, which will take them all into consideration before making any decision, Takorn added.

The NBTC will hold a mock auction today ahead of Tuesday's bidding. Well-known activist Suriyasai Katasila and 10 consumer organisations are reportedly expected to jointly seek the court's order on Monday to suspend the auction, citing what they view as a too-low reserve price of Bt4.5 billion per spectrum slot. Anupap wants the NBTC to suspend the auction, pending the complete issuance of key measures to bring optimal benefits to the population.

Most of the bidders' questions yesterday concerned what would happen if an error occurred during the auction; whether the NBTC has a manual back-up system; whether the system would record the bid results in all rounds; and whether representatives would be permitted to bring in thumb drives to record the results as evidence in case something goes wrong. They also asked what would happen if they placed a bid but the system failed to display their bids in the control room. Some asked what would happen if the clocks malfunctioned, given that each of them will have only 30 minutes to deliberate before placing each bid. They also asked about provisions for making an appeal if they placed a bid but the system failed to show it, making it necessary to prove later that the bid had in fact been placed.

A representative of the auction software service provider, Power Auctions, offered assurances to the bidders, saying the company has managed the successful design and execution of more than 100 auctions worldwide.

The NBTC yesterday said it would provide bidders with thumb drives to record the bid results and would have staff on hand to inform them in their bid rooms five minutes before the 30-minute time limit for making a bid expires. Earlier, the watchdog said it planned to seal the USB port slots in computers in the bid rooms for security reasons.

The representatives of Advanced Wireless at the meeting were led by AIS vice chairman Somprasong Boonyachai, AIS chief executive officer Wichien Mektrakarn, and AIS chief financial officer Pong-amorn Nimpoonsawat.

Those from DTAC Network were led by DTAC chairman Boonchai Bencharongkul, DTAC CEO Jon Eddy Abdullah and DTAC chief corporate affairs officer Darmp Sukontasap. Those from Real Future were led by True CEO Suphachai Chearavanont, True vice chairman Athueck Asvanund and True CFO Noppadol Dej-udom. The three bidders also brought their own auction consultants to the meeting.

Advanced Wireless will send 10 representatives, of whom three are Singaporean, to join the bid on October 16, while DTAC Network will send seven, of whom five are foreign executives. Real Future will send 10 representatives.

Among those present will be representatives of shareholders and strategic partners of AIS, DTAC and True.

Cedar Holdings and Aspen Holdings, controlled by Singapore's state investment arm Temasek Holdings, are major shareholders of InTouch, parent of AIS. InTouch's director from Temasek, Boon Swan Foo, will also attend the bid with AIS representatives. Norway's Telenor is DTAC's strategic partner, while Charoen Pokphand group is the parent of True.




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