The last week of January has seen much activity in Thailand around 3G and its deployment.
True Move, the country’s third-largest mobile phone operator, and state-owned CAT Telecom signed a deal on Thursday morning to handover Hutch-CAT JV CDMA network (by Real Move) and to upgrade it into a 3G HSPA network (by Real Future).
Under that deal, True Move will install HSPA equipments in 1,400 base stations in 25 provinces and then allow CAT Telecom to lease the network.
The dates for the 3G licenses auctions on 2.1GHz band being still unkown, this deal will help both operators to be a step ahead their competitors in the upcoming race for 3G deployment.
Meanwhile, the auction for a 17-billion Bahts (600 million USD) nationwide expansion of TOT 3G network has been the scene of a legal battle. 2 bidders, ZTE – a consortium of ZTE and Forth Corporation – and the Ericsson-A.S. Associate Engineering consortium were ruled out during the screening process. They appealed against TOT’s decision but Thursday 27th evening, on the E-auction eve, the Administrative Court rejected the case.
Finally, on Friday 28th, the SL Consortium of Loxley, Samart, Nokia Siemens Networks, and Huawei Technologies won the E-auction with a final price of approximately 16 billion Bahts. SL Consortium outbid the AU Consortium which consists of Advanced Information Technology, Alcatel-Lucent (Thailand) and United Communication Industry.
TOT plans to launch the 3G network through its MVNOs in major Thai provinces in April.
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.