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Same telecoms expected to bid for 1800MHz licences

THE AUCTION in August for 1800MHz licences is expected to see only the same three telecoms that bid for 2.1GHz licences in 2012.

Settapong Malisuwan, vice chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said last week the telecom industry was unlikely to have more players coming in.

Some terms and conditions in the draft plan to auction two 1800MHz licences also make it look unattractive for foreign telecoms to take part.

The high mobile phone penetration in this country - 140 per cent - also discourages new players, he said.

Suphachai Chearavanont, CEO of True Corp, said his group is ready to join the bidding for a 1800MHz band to use to provide 4G cellular broadband service.

True's subsidiary Real Future is the first to launch 4G, using 5MHz of its 2.1GHz band.

"We want to enhance the perception that we're the leader in wireless data services," he said.

True recently unleashed a marketing blitz to add a million 4G subscribers to its 250,000 base.

While the starting price of Bt11.6 billion for a 1800MHz licence is too high, the company is ready to fight for it.

True could afford the upfront licence fee as the NBTC allows the winners to pay in instalments, he said.

Kitisak Sriprasert, CEO of CAT Telecom, said the state enterprise will most probably join the fray, unless the NBTC sets conditions that prevent state enterprises from vying for a licence. Management has already consulted CAT's board on the plan to try for a licence.

The NBTC's auction conditions for the 2.1GHz licences prohibited any entities that already held 2.1GHz spectrum bands, namely TOT, from taking part, but its draft for the 1800MHz auction does not forbid the existing 1800MHz spectrum holders such as CAT and Total Access Communication (DTAC) from bidding.

However, as the new government has yet to be formed, CAT is uncertain if it has to ask for permission from the Election Commission to enter the bidding.

Wichian Mektrakarn, CEO of Advanced Info Service (AIS), believes the competition for the 1800MHz licences will be fierce. AIS was eager to secure licences for both 1800MHz and 900MHz, he said.

DTAC is also looking forward to the 1800MHz auction, as it needs at least 10MHz bandwidth of that spectrum to launch 4G service fully. It is expected to commercially launch 4G service soon by using its existing 2.1GHz spectrum.

A DTAC source said DTAC is keen to bid for licences for both 1800MHz and 900MHz.

Although DTAC's 1800MHz and 800MHz concessions will expire next year, no one can guarantee that the NBTC will be able to allocate them for auction after that, so the company wants to clinch any available licences at hand first.

The 1,800MHz bandwidth to be put on the block in August belonged to TrueMove and Digital Phone Co, whose concessions expired last September.

The 900MHz spectrum set to be reallocated in November is now being used by AIS, whose concession will end next year.


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