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CAT seeks junta nod for spectrum bid

CAT Telecom has proposed to the National Council for Peace and Order its plan to bid for licences on the 1,800-megahertz spectrum and hopes the ruling body will give it the go-ahead, the state agency said.

While the NCPO has suspended plans for the 1,800MHz auction until it scrutinises the plans of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). CAT believes that the suspension benefits it given the NCPO now has time to consider its request.

Viroj Tochareonvanith, CAT's senior executive vice president for marketing and sales, said the agency had decided to enter the auction last year but it was put on hold because there was no cabinet to approve it.

The NCPO on Tuesday instructed the NBTC to suspend the planned auctions of two 1,800MHz licences and two 900MHz licences that were due to take place in August and November respectively.

Also temporarily suspended while the NCPO scrutinises the projects to ensure transparency are the distribution of Bt1,000 subsidy vouchers for digital TV set-top boxes and the Bt20-billion upgrade of basic telecom infrastructure nationwide.

NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasit said recently that he did not think the suspensions of the auctions and the projects would last long.

The 1,800MHz and 900MHz spectra can be used to provide fourth-generation wireless broadband service.

Teera Kanokkanjanarat, a senior analyst of information and communications technology at Frost & Sullivan Thailand, said the suspension of the auctions could result in lost business opportunities if it lasted beyond the third quarter.

Marc Einstein, Frost & Sullivan principal of digital media and mobile telecom, estimates potential losses of about US$4 billion (Bt130 billion), of which $1 billion would be lost in network-equipment investment and $3 billion would be lost by not creating new business opportunities and increasing business efficiency through the use of 4G technology.

However, Teera believes that the telecom sector's further development will continue despite the suspension, given the telecom sector is one of the country's strategic pillars. Last year the sector's revenue accounted for 10 per cent of gross domestic product.

According to a telecom analyst, the auction suspension is unlikely to have a material impact on telecom operators if the suspension lasts for only a few months, but Advanced Info Service (AIS) is expected to suffer the most if the suspension lasts for more than a year.

The analyst assumed that AIS would win one Bt1,800MHz licence and Total Access Communication (DTAC) would win the other.

If the auction is postponed a few months, there is unlikely to be any material impact on the analyst’s earnings estimates of these operators.

True Corp and DTAC already provide 4G wireless broadband service on the 2.1-gigahertz spectrum.

AIS, which does not offer 4G, is keen to acquire more bandwidth from the auctions to serve its data-hungry customers.

However, the analyst does not expect AIS's lack of a 4G service to have a material impact on it in the short term, as 4G handset penetration is still low in Thailand. However, if the 1,800MHz auction is delayed for more than a year, AIS is expected to suffer more than its competitors.

With its surging data traffic, the analyst said AIS was likely to face a spectrum shortage by late next year unless it acquired more bandwidth.

The analyst believes that True would be in the best position to poach AIS customers in such a scenario, thanks to its abundant bandwidth. True provides wireless broadband on both the 850MHz and 2.1GHz spectra.

AIS's share price yesterday rose 0.47 per cent to close at Bt216, while DTAC's rose 1.35 per cent to close at Bt112.50. True's share price closed at Bt9.95, up 5.85 per cent.

In a separate matter yesterday, CAT re-launched its My 3G service with a Bt200-million campaign that aims to attract 720,000 subscribers by end of the year, up from around 200,000 at present.

Viroj said the service was forecast to secure Bt2.561 billion in revenue this year before rising to Bt5.2 billion within five years when it is expected to have 1.7 million subscribers.

The MY 3G network covers 77 provinces with 13,500 base stations.


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