Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thailand's Telcom Wars

It's CAT vs TOT

Your CAT Telecom turned the tables on your TOT, with a surprise offer of 2.4 billion baht to buy TOT's 42 per cent stake in SuthepNet, the little mobile company that couldn't; the firm, which has dozens of subscribers under its official name Thai Mobile, is attractive because it is almost certain to be granted a third-generation (3G) licence, and CAT Telecom sees its future as a leasing ten-percenter, skimming off the top of client contracts; TOT had once offered to buy the CAT Telecom stake in Thai Mobile for 2.4 billion baht until it ran into what the media is encouraged to call "cash-flow problems".

By a huge, unconnected coincidence the National Telecommunications Commission decided to "take another look" at 3G licences for commercial services, translation: Hook up with a government duopoly member or wait quite a while. No. 1 yuppiephone network Advanced Info Service of Shingapore said it it worried about launching third-generation (3G) service even on a test basis; president Wichian Mektrakarn wondered if the 30 relay sites in test-market Chiang Mai can handle the 3GSM Advance beta-test service on the 900MHz frequency.

Your TOT, whose main activity recently has been to lose lawsuits and arbitrations, set up a special negotiating team to try to deal with 30 cases it lost, worth 70 billion baht, which at three baht per phone call is quite a lot; TOT has established itself as some sort of record loser of suits and complaints by private-sector telecoms firms, the Revenue Department and the National Telecommunications Commission; it has even lost (how bad can you get?) in suits against your CAT Telecom; having been found guilty, TOT now hopes to negotiate the penalties it has been ordered to pay. The Central Administrative Court rubbed salt in your TOT's wounds; it upheld the order by the National Telecommunications Commission for the TOT to negotiate an interconnection contract with No. 2 yuppiephone firm DTAC of Norway; TOT feels it should just be able to send DTAC a bill and expect payment, but DTAC has taught TOT a couple of lessons about that; TOT agreed to talk, but not to settle.

The law against driving under the influence of a mobile phone went into effect; police clocked 115 violators the first day, "all of whom admitted their guilt," according to officers; as time goes by, police will enforce the regulation with the same zeal they use to enforce the seat-belt law, but in the meantime they need more digital cameras.

No. 1 yuppiephone firm Advanced Info Service officially launched third-generation mobile broadband services for part of Chiang Mai city; the venture, essentially a beta-testing phase for AIS, cost 600 million baht to set up in the Rose of the North.

A group claiming to be the Internet Cafe's Network addressed the Culture Ministry and proposed new self-governance to stop all that gaming addiction and sexual harassment of minors going around: Keep the cafe's open 24 hours a day for those over 18, and tighten up supervision of the younger set - no entry before 2pm, and out by 10pm, or 8pm for the under-15s; the ICN claimed 200 members, while a study by lecturer Ithipol Pretiprasong of the Institute for Children and Family Development of Mahidol University found about 23,900 Internet cafe's registered and operating nationwide; that compares with about 4,500 7-Eleven stores in Thailand.

NCR of America began a push to sell its SelfServ line of new ATM machines, which will allow Thai banking customers to do all that stuff that tellers and cashiers now do, and help the banks save a lot of money without getting a satang in return, isn't that great?

In line with parent Telenor, No. 2 yuppiephone operator DTAC of Norway said profits jumped 51 per cent year on year to 2.3 billion baht, although revenue grew just 9.5 per cent to 17.7 billion; CEO Sigve Brekke said he expects another great year, despite inflation and consumer fears, amid signs that mobile phones have become recession-proof; Ketchayong Skowratananont, head of the prepaid division, said the average phone card refill was down from 90 to 79 baht in a year, but the company was actually selling more cards.

Up-country fixed-line phone peddlers TT&T scaled back its business plan in line with the rehabilitation plan it submitted with creditors and the Central Bankruptcy Court; Korawut Chiwaprecha, president of vice and finance, said he was cutting more than 1.3 billion out of the former two-billion-baht expansion plan, because creditors wouldn't allow the spending; he said all TT&T subsidiaries would continue expansion and investment as planned.

Your main telecommunications squeeze TOT hired someone else to install the telecoms system for the spiffy new Government Centre near the TOT building at Chaeng Watthana; TOT will skim ... er, oversee the 323-million-baht contract, which went to Thai Transmission Industry, in a completely transparent, totally honest, unbelievably credible bidding process.

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