Business News - Tuesday December 18, 2007
Industry calls for swift decisions on 3G
In one of the strongest messages to Thailand's government to date, mobile operators and the GSM Association (GSMA) have called for urgent action and a licensing timeline for the introduction of 3G service.
Spokesmen for AIS and DTAC, the country's top two mobile operators, said they had been ready for the introduction of 3G for a long time and called on the regulator to provide some certainty.
''I want a committed date,'' said DTAC CEO Sigve Brekke said following a meeting with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Friday.
''I want the government to say that by this date you get the licence and I hope that date will be before Aug 1, 2008. As soon as we get this date then we can start planning.''
''If licensing would come, existing operators would roll 3G out in a few months,'' added Pratthana Leelapanang, assistant vice-president for wireless service marketing with AIS.
''We're more than ready to invest in 3G. We've been aggressively investing in 2G for 10 years but we've also been reserving funding for 3G.''
Ricardo Tavares, senior vice-president for public policy with the GSMA, expressed optimism that commercial 3G services would be available before the end of 2008. ''From the seminar, we all understood that there are challenges but there is also a sense of urgency, that you could see,'' he said.
The GSMA has proposed a timeline with public consultations in the first quarter of 2008, followed by the issuing of licences as early as June. If that were to happen, he said, operators would have 3G infrastructure and commercial services before the end of the year.
Mr Tavares contrasted Thailand's table-topping performance in the recent SEA Games and its performance in mobile broadband. While it topped the medal count at the games, when it comes to 3G it is languishing near the bottom of the table, with only Burma, Laos and Vietnam yet to introduce 3G licences.
''Mobile broadband will be of great benefit to increase the penetration of PCs and give handsets new services, providing encouragement to Thai content developers. Thailand is going to be starting a little later in the game, but it can still win it,'' he said.
Mr Brekke, meanwhile, warned the government against being too greedy when it comes to setting licensing fees. He suggested that a ''beauty contest'' would be the best choice and that no more than three licences (not including the 2.1GHz licence already held by the TOT/CAT joint venture Thai Mobile) should be issued.
''I would urge the government not to maximise the price. It's so tempting but what happens if it is too pricey? Operators will limit the rollout and we will have higher tariffs. I strongly urge a beauty contest with attached service conditions,'' he said.
Mr Brekke also suggested that his company didn't really need a licence for 3G, but a licence to operate in the 2.1GHz frequency. ''If the NTC decides not to issue a licence, we can do 3G on our existing frequency.''
He pointed to operators such as Telstra that have introduced 3G on lower frequency bands and said this would also be possible in Thailand now that vendors have the required infrastructure.