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.
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.