The expiration of TrueMove's and Digital Phone Co's concessions tomorrow marks the release of the first two slots of the precious 1,800-megahertz spectrum from a state concession system to be utilised under the new licensing regime.
The 1,800MHz spectrum can be used to provide fourth-generation wireless broadband service. However, telecom operators eager to use this spectrum will have to wait at least a year. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission agreed last month to permit TrueMove, DPC and their concession owner CAT Telecom to continue serving the companies’ combined 17 million subscribers for one more year after the concessions end.
The NBTC has dismissed scholars’ criticism that this amounts to an extension of the concession contracts, insisting it is merely a measure to prevent service disruption to consumers. It has also denied that it has moved too slowly in preparing for the expiry of the TrueMove and DPC concessions.
These are the first cellular concessions to expire. They will be followed by the 900MHz concession of Advanced Info Service (AIS) under TOT in March 2015 and the 1,800MHz and 850MHz concessions of Total Access Communication (DTAC) under CAT in September 2018.
It remains to be seen whether the NBTC can auction off these TrueMove-DPC 1,800MHz bands next September as planned. It has already hired the International Telecom Union to advise it on its auction plan. The commission has yet to decide whether it will auction the 1,800MHz bands on their own or in combination with AIS’s 900MHz bands.
NBTC telecom committee chairman Settapong Malisuwan once said it would not be easy to reallocate the 1,800MHz spectrum, as it would involve many parties. If the commission can make the 1,800MHz auction happen, it is expected to run more smoothly when it is time to handle the auctions of other spectra as well.
Currently, CAT owns the 1,800MHz spectrum, which was originally given as a concession to DTAC. Part of the spectrum was later returned to CAT, and in 1996 this was given as a concession to DPC and TrueMove, which at that time was known as Wireless Communication Service (WCS).
In late 2000, Charoen Pokphand Group (CP), parent of True Corp, took over WCS to enable its telecom flagship to enter the cellular business. In 2001, WCS formed a strategic partnership with a global telecom giant Orange, and WCS was later renamed CP Orange. In 2002, it was renamed TA Orange, which fully launched the Orange brand.
The advent of TA Orange sparked intensifying competition in the industry, which had been dominated by AIS and DTAC. Orange exited the partnership in 2004 to focus on Europe. TA Orange was renamed TrueMove in 2006. Currently TrueMove has about 17 million subscribers.
DPC was established by Samart Corp before it was taken over by Shin Corp in 2000 in a deal worth about Bt5 billion. Currently DPC has about 70,000 subscribers.