Thailand 3G spectrum auction stalls

Bidding for the country's 3G mobile licenses has been pushed back indefinitely as Thai court maintains decision that current 3G regulator is not authorized to allocate wireless spectrum.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Thailand's supreme administrative court on Thursday agreed with a lower court's ruling to place an injunction against a 3G auction planned for Monday by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). This means Thai mobile users will have to wait indefinitely before being able to access 3G wireless networks on their mobile phones.

Reports on Thursday noted that the ruling follows NTC's appeal against an injunction by the central administrative court issued last week. State-owned telcos, CAT Telecom and TOT, filed separate complaints to the central administrative court alleging that NTC does not have the authority to conduct the auction of the 3G spectrum.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the supreme administrative court's verdict questioned NTC's authority "due to the absence of another independent body to regulate broadcasting businesses that were supposed to work together with the NTC in allocating frequencies".

A news report from Bloomberg pointed out that NTC first planned the auction in 2005 under the rule of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The government was ousted a year later in a coup by the military.

In 2007, the new government mandated the setting up of a new regulator to supervise both telecom and broadcasting in the country and to replace the NTC.

Lawmakers have yet to approve the bill, although the government plans to speed up a law to set up the new regulator, said Bloomberg.

The bidders of the 3G spectrum are mobile players Advanced Info Service (AIS), which Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) has a 21.4 percent stake in, Total Access Communication (TAC) owned by the Asia unit of Norway's Teleno, and Thai-grown telco True Move.

Wall Street Journal pointed out in its report that CAT Telecom and TOT will lose enormous concession revenues from private firms if the 3G licenses are passed.

Current private mobile operators, operating under concessions granted by the state-owned telcos, share 20 to 30 percent of their revenues. However, 3G licensees need pay an annual fee of only 6 percent of their revenues, said the report.

Despite the lack of 3G services in Thailand, 3G-enabled smartphones such as the Apple iPhone 3G have been launched in the country. However, users are forced to rely on other mobile wireless access such as Wi-Fi, Edge (a 2.75G network) and GPRS.

Editorial standards