3G finally arriving in Thailand?

Dates for Thailand’s 3G auction, the first step to fully functional public 3G mobile networks, have been confirmed for between 22-28 September.

But, as a Bangkok Post article points out, there is yet more uncertainty surrounding the proposed auction.

Questions remain, however, about the NTC’s legal authority, since the law to create a new super-regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), has not received final approval.

As a result, a director of TOT Plc warned…that if the NTC awarded 3G licences under existing rules, private mobile operators such as AIS, DTAC and True Move could establish new companies to bid for licences. They would then migrate their customers to new 3G networks so that they would no longer have to pay concession fees, which would severely hurt TOT and its state sibling, CAT Telecom.

In addition Reuters reports that the auction may go beyond 3G and include additional more advanced technologies too.

The NTC has in fact decided to go beyond 3G and auction licences in September for a more advanced 3.9G service based on the same 2.1 GHz spectrum. The auction for three licences with a starting price of 12.8 billion baht ($397 million) would generate at least $1.2 billion for the state.

‘This is Thailand’, goes the popular saying… meaning essentially anything is possible here, the auction dates have been ‘set’ a number of times in the last few years and yet still the country stands as one of the few without 3G.

I’ve stated the significance of 3G deployment in the country on numerous occasions. As recently blogged, mobile data is set to grow by 75 percent (on average) across Southeast Asia in the next three years, becoming a significant (40 percent) chunk of revenue for operators.

Mobile data is reliant upon a reliable and fast data network. 3G services would see an increase in speed and reliability for customers using data, making the average user more likely to be more active (and thus increase their spend) while non-data users will be more attracted to the service.

Data has great potential in Thailand given mobile penetration is high (though the official figure of more than 100 percent is distorted by large numbers prepay subscribers, many of whom have owned more than one number) and internet access often too expensive for many. Mobile phones and mobile data are likely to become the primary access point for the web for many in the country.

Failure to deploy 3G will stunt this mobile internet growth – in terms of both demand and supply – costing operators significantly and affecting end users.

Limited 3G is available but it is not a set-up capable of servicing all of Thailand’s population, and is purely an interim measure.

Here’s hoping the auctions do go ahead.