Thai regulator: 3G licenses set for Q3

Third-generation (3G) mobile technology inched closer to reality when the National Telecommunications Commission assured operators that it could award licenses by the third quarter meaning service is likely early next year.

NTC commissioner Sethaporn Cusripituck said the board would meet this Thursday to fix significant details on a 3G licensing timeframe.

He said both 3G draft regulations and nationwide public hearings had been completed. It remains uncertain how many operators the board can allocate for the remaining 45MHz band on the 2.1GHz frequency and what methods should be used to select the licensees.

He said the board was considering whether to use a first come, first served option, a lottery, a "beauty contest" (based on technical capabilities), or a hybrid method to choose licensees.

"If there are no mishaps, 3G services should be seen in the second quarter of next year at the 2100 MHz frequency," he said.

He also said that wireless broadband service or Wi-Max licenses could be awarded at the same time.
He said the delay in 3G licenses resulted from a lack of clarity on the duty and role of the NTC. The existing Frequency Management Law became effective in 2000 and brought about the NTC in 2003, but frequencies were meant to be allocated jointly with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) which was never formed. The Council of State finally ruled that the NTC could allocate frequencies even without the existence of NBC.

Sanchai Tiewprasertkul, marketing director of Advanced Info Service, said telecom service consumption contributed 3 percent of GDP. If 3G service became available, at least 50-60 billion baht (US$1.4-1.68 billion) in working capital would be in the market in the next three years.

AIS has offered 3G service on 900 MHz since the middle of last year in Chiang Mai, and within three months will provide services in Chon Buri and Bangkok.

He said that at present users still did not see much difference with 3G service because AIS began with only advertisements on video calls.

In fact, video calling services might not be popular, but the real killer applications for 3G would be wireless broadband, digital broadcasting and high-speed Internet, he said.Roar Wiik Andreassen, DTAC's chief strategy officer, said it set aside 5-10 billion baht (US$140-280 million) for 3G annually, depending on roll-out conditions from the NTC and delays in licensing. He added that DTAC would provide 3G service on 850 MHz and the new frequency.

Atip Asvanond, True Corporation 'assistant director, said the significance of 3G service did not lie in the network but in the content. This was why True Move approached Apple for iPhone 3G imports in the Thai market because of the variety of applications.