Thai NTC Plans To Issue New 3G Licences By End-2009

telecoms regulator said on Friday it expected to issue new licences for third-generation
mobile services by the end of 2009, seen as a key step in reforming the
competitive sector.
    The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) held a
public hearing about 3G services this week and expected to complete drafting
criteria on issuing licences by the end of this year, Secretary-General Suranan
Wongvithayakamjorn told reporters.
    “Late next year, we should be able to issue 3G licences
for a new 2.1 GHz spectrum,” Suranan said, adding the regulator needed
more time to consider public opinion and the information needed to decide on
the number of licences and how they will be won.
    “We will hold a public hearing about the draft criteria
early next year. After that, we will send letters to invite interested
operators worldwide. This process should take around 6-8 months,” he said.
Licensing is seen as a key step in reforming the sector because companies will
pay licence fees instead of paying a portion of their revenue to state-owned
firms for the right to operate networks they built and paid for, as they do now.
    Reform was delayed by slow progress in setting up another
regulator to join the NTC in allocating 3G spectrums. But under a new law, the
NTC itself has the authority to allocate them, Suranan said. Analysts said the
new 3G licences would also help reduce regulatory costs for operators.
    “Although operators have to allocate big budgets to
obtain licences and roll out networks, they will gain from big savings in long-term,
regulatory, per-unit costs by as much as 20 percent of revenue,” said Kim
Eng Securities analyst Solaya Na Songkhla.
    Thai telecoms operators are competing to deploy new
technologies, including WiMax and 3G on existing networks, to extract new
revenue from a nearly saturated sector. They are also keen to receive 3G
licences on the new 2.1 GHz spectrum, which requires much more investment than 3G
on existing frequencies.
    Earlier this month, NTC allowed the top three mobile phone
operators to import equipment for 3G services, removing the last obstacle to
launching the new service on their existing networks. The three are market
leader Advanced Info Service (AIS), second-ranked Total Access Communication
PCL (TAC) and number three True Move, a subsidiary of True Corp.
    Both AIS, 21.4 percent owned by Singapore Telecommunications
Ltd, and TAC, controlled by Norway‘s
Telenor , plan to launch 3G services on their existing frequencies in Bangkok by the first
quarter of next year. Suranan said the NTC would also issue licences for the
WiMax wireless technology service next year. WiMax is a new super-high-speed
wireless technology that allows users to surf the Internet and download data, sound
and movies at considerable distances.


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