Sunday, August 10, 2008

Telecommunications: AIS keen to share Thai Mobile 3G space

Advanced Info Service is eager to share part of Thai Mobile's 1900 Megahertz bandwidth to upgrade third-generation (3G) mobile phone service under a concession agreement with TOT Plc.

The country's largest mobile operator believes it can help ensure TOT's 3G plan has a quick liftoff because AIS has the potential to deploy 3G infrastructure faster given its existing support functions for mobile services.

A highly placed source at the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) ministry said that AIS executives extended interest in sharing part of Thai Mobile's 1900 MHz bandwidth after the TOT board approved the state enterprise's ambitious 29-billion-baht 3G investment plan.

Thai Mobile, which TOT controls, failed as a cellular business but controls highly valuable 3G frequencies and will be the spearhead for the plan.

However, cabinet ministers last week said the plan needed to be reviewed by the National Economic and Social Development Board, which required a feasibility study.

Under the plan, TOT proposes to invest 29 billion baht to build 5,200 base stations by the end of this year.

The source said that AIS executives had met informally with ICT officials and asked about using 15 MHz of bandwidth for uplink and 15 MHz for downlink communications from Thai Mobile's existing frequency ranges of 1965-1980 and 2155-2170 MHz. AIS wants to upgrade its network and then become a service contributor for both operators.

The source said that this pattern of borrowing bandwidth would be similar to what True Move proposed to CAT Telecom and is currently pending approval by the National Telecommunications Commission, the national regulator. True Move has asked CAT to share part of its 850 MHz bandwidth to upgrade its network to provide 3G.

The source said that AIS was willing to deploy a 3G network within three months to fulfill the ministry's policy to offer 3G service within this year.

He also said AIS was willing to transfer all its assets to TOT under the build-transfer-operate concession agreement, and was willing to pay revenue sharing under the same terms of reference.

The AIS proposal is seen as a sign of better co-operation with TOT, which in the past has had strained relations with its concessionaires. Sibling agency CAT, in contrast, wants companies operating under its concessions to think of themselves as business partners.

But the source said that although the ICT ministry would agree to the proposal, it needed to get approval from TOT's board and also required NTC's approval on the bandwidth transfer.

TOT has set a target of 350,000 users of its 3G service by the end of 2009, rising to four million by 2013.

It expects a 15% share of all 3G service revenue, providing a much-needed boost to its shrinking bottom line.

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