The end of 2010 has been marked by several strategic moves by Thai operators meant to let them provide 3G services nationwide even before the disputes over the 3G license auctions are settled.
True Move was already providing 3G in test areas, mostly in central Bangkok, on the 850MHz band thanks to an agreement with the state-owned operator CAT who owns the licenses for this band. They managed to extend these test areas to other touristic hotspots such as Hua Hin, however this could hardly have been qualified as a nationwide coverage.
By announcing officially on the 30th of December that they finalized a deal with Hutchinson, True showed clearly they did not intend to wait for the 2.1GHz band license for extending their network.
True, in a statement to the Stock Exchange of Thailand, said its subsidiary Real Move would purchase a 92.5 per cent stake in Hutchison Wireless Multimedia for 4.35 billion baht. Real Move will also acquire holding company BKFT (Thailand), giving True control of three other firms – Hutchison Multimedia Services (Thailand), Hutchison Telecommunications (Thailand) and Hutchison CAT Wireless Multimedia, a joint venture with CAT Telecom, provides mobile phone services to some 600,000 subscribers in 25 provinces using CDMA technology.
This purchase will allow True to provide access to Hutchinson-CAT 3G network to its customer, taking the lead in the race to rollout of 3G services in Thailand.
One of True main competitors petitioned the government to intervene in what it described as unfair treatment by CAT and was allowed to construct 1220 more cell sites to extend the 3G trials on 850MHz they were conducting with a mere 36 cells. CAT has also said that next month it will propose to the panel granting telecoms concessions that DTAC be allowed to offer 3G services commercially.
In this race to 3G the loser seems to be the third major operator, AIS (Advanced Info Service) who did not find a way yet to provide 3G services to its customer until the long expected 2.1GHz license auctions now planned for some time in 2011.
After the cancelation of the 3G licenses auctions few weeks ago, Thailand Operators are revising their plans for 3G deployment.
CAT Telecom is considering a U-turn in its mobile strategy, focusing on upgrading its own network to provide fast 3G service, because its attempt to take over the Hutch network, in which it is a partner, has been stalled.
The state telecom enterprise now wants to invest as much as 3.2 billion baht to upgrade the CDMA mobile network it operates in 51 provinces to high-speed downlink packet access technology, said a CAT board member who asked not to be named. CAT would use roaming service with other operators for areas in which it had no network infrastructure, he added.
The alternative upgrade plan is seen as more reliable and easier to manage in terms of CAT’s business development strategy. It would also speed up 3G technology development to take advantage of the vacuum created by the delay in 3G licence auctions.
CAT president Jirayuth Rungsrithong says he still supports the takeover plan as it would immediately add the 700,000 Hutch subscribers to the CAT network and generate 4 billion baht in revenue per year, compared with 800 million baht a year CAT earns from a revenue-sharing deal for Hutch.
In a related development, Wichian Mektrakarn, the chief executive of AIS, said the mobile market leader was prepared to become a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) for both TOT and CAT to provide 3G service in a complementary approach to its existing 2G services.
Additionally, Suroj Lamsam, senior executive vice-president of Loxley Plc, said his company also wanted to be an MVNO for CAT in order to maximise the utilisation of its facilities. Loxley is already an MVNO for 3G services on behalf of TOT.
Finally, TOT is preparing to sign data roaming and mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreements with the three operators at the same time and under the same terms for all. The three operators want to see a speedy agreement on TOT’s 3G network, but TOT is taking its time to study the impact a move will have on the five existing MVNO operators.
He said private operators were interested in data roaming and 3G service in the capital, but TOT’s 3G network only had capacity for 500,000 numbers. Previous roaming agreements were bilateral and allowed for voice roaming.