COMMUNICATIONS / NEW MOBILE APPLICATIONS
AIS says it can readily upgrade system to 3G
Advanced Info Service (AIS) has outlined an alternative path for its third-generation mobile-phone plans, saying it could upgrade its 2G network to 3G under the terms of its existing concession.
The country's largest mobile operator has set aside US$600 million for the first phase of 3G mobile phone services in Bangkok and 20 major provinces.
The budget for WiMax has been finalised as it depends on the frequency spectrum the company chooses.
President Wichian Mektrakarn said AIS had three technology options for 3G development: 3G, WiMax and high-speed download packet access (HSDPA).
He said the company would initially prefer the 3G and WiMax platforms because more equipment and mobile handsets were available.
AIS and its rivals are waiting for the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to grant 3G licences in the first half of 2008. If the regulator delays its decision, Mr Wichian said AIS could begin upgrading existing 2G switching equipment and transmission speeds to 3G and WiMax.
The company initially planned to seek loans to fund the 3G network, with initial capacity of 10 million users or about 40% of its total customer base.
Second-ranked DTAC also intends to upgrade its 2G platform to WiMax and WiFi with an investment of up to eight billion baht in the second half of this year. The company would then gradually upgrade its Edge network to HSDPA nationwide.
The NTC has stalled the process of awarding new 3G licences for years because of legal questions about whether the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which has never been formed due to political infighting, needed to be in place before the frequency spectrum could be awarded for use. The argument is that because 3G supports multimedia and broadcast applications, a broadcasting regulator should oversee it.
The delay has put Thailand behind its regional peers _ even Cambodia and Laos _ where operators already provide commercial 3G mobile services.
3G technologies enable network operators to offer users a wide range of advanced services while achieving greater network capacity through improved efficiency. Services include wide-area wireless voice telephony and broadband wireless data in a mobile environment.
Mr Wichian said AIS would move forward with 3G development immediately if its smaller rivals start the process.
''If our rivals start making the move, we will proceed rapidly,'' he said. ''But if they delay the process, we will continue our plan within this year.''
Mr Wichian said upgrading to 3G on the 900 frequency would not violate its concession from TOT Plc as it did not involve any new frequencies.
But he acknowledged that AIS needed to talk with TOT about a new revenue-sharing agreement in terms of new customers using the upgraded networks.