preparing for 3G
Telcos expected to start mass number porting by April 20: NBTC
Regulator also likely to consider lower interconnection charge this week
Telecom operators have been tentatively given until April 20 to co-launch massive mobile phone number porting to support the upcoming 3G networks and the end of the concessions of TrueMove and Digital Phone Co in September.
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is also expected to consider this week the new and lower rate of network interconnection charge of at least 45 satang per call minute, which will encourage operators to further reduce their airtime rates for consumers.
An NBTC source said last week that three of the five 2G operators and Clearinghouse Co agreed in a recent meeting with the NBTC to expand their porting capacity to serve unlimited requests per day - a change from the present maximum of 4,000 numbers per day by all operators.
The watchdog also told them to shorten the time to complete porting to one day from the present three days. Porting allows subscribers to switch to a new network and still use their old number.
The five operators at the meeting were Advanced Info Service (AIS), Total Access Communication (DTAC), TrueMove, TOT and CAT Telecom. While the three companies are keen to expand their porting capacity, the two state enterprises were reluctant to do so, citing the high cost. Their reluctance is no surprise, as the possible mass migration of customers from AIS, DTAC and TrueMove, which hold concessions from them, to the three holders of 3G-2.1GHz licences would slash their concession revenue.
AIS holds a TOT concession, while DTAC and TrueMove hold CAT concessions. The three 2.1GHz licence holders are Advanced Wireless Network (AWN) of AIS, DTAC Network (DTN) of DTAC and Real Future of True Corp. Their parents are expected to focus on migrating premium customers from their own 2G networks to the subsidiaries' 3G networks in the initial stage in order to save on regulatory costs. The subsidiaries are expected to launch 3G networks in the first half of this year.
The 3G licence costs the holder about 5.75 per cent of gross revenue, while the concession fee costs the concession holder 25-30 per cent of gross revenue. "The massive porting of 50 million mobile phone numbers within one year is technically possible, if all of these five operators join forces to expand their porting capacity," said Pitjapol Jantanasaro, deputy secretary-general of the NBTC.
The five operators set up Clearinghouse to facilitate porting. AWN, DTN and Real Future will also acquire shares in Clearinghouse.
Pitjapol said the operators need their customers' consent to migrate them to the 3G networks or they would risk a legal challenge from the customers. They also need to obtain official evidence to prove a customer's consent.
The massive porting is also needed to deal with the expiration of the concessions of TrueMove and DPC this September.
TrueMove and DPC have 17 million and 80,000 subscribers, respectively.
TrueMove has kept assuring its customers that the NBTC would launch measures in time to take care them, as it is the NBTC's responsibility to ensure that they would not experience service disruptions. TrueMove has also coordinated with the watchdog to make sure its customers would not be affected.
NBTC member Prasert Silphiphat said the NBTC's working panel on the network interconnection charge would propose to the watchdog's telecom committee this week two options for new interconnection rates, but he declined to elaborate.
The NBTC source said one option is a one-year interim rate of 45 satang, which would be applied to all operators. The second is 45 satang in the first year and then a fixed rate of 40 per cent of 45 satang in the following three years, again for all operators.
At present, AIS, TrueMove and DTAC charge one another Bt1 per call minute. However, they charge CAT an interconnection fee of 50 satang per minute. The NBTC has set the old interim interconnection rate at 50 satang per minute for those failing to reach an agreement on an effective rate.
Another NBTC working panel will submit for the telecom committee's approval this week the request by the three 3G operators for 26 million mobile phone numbers to provide service for one year. The cost per number is Bt1 per month. AWN requested 14 million numbers, DTN 8 million and Real Future 4 million.