DTAC freezes 3G expansion, prepares for 4G network outlay

Total Access Communication (DTAC) has said it would put brakes on the expansion of its existing third-generation (3G) service and prepare its network for 4G if it wins licences for the 2.1-gigahertz spectrum.

The second-largest mobile operator currently offers 3G service on the analogue 850-megahertz frequency, which has a limited capacity.

It also outlined a plan to launch a 4G mobile service on its existing analogue 1800-MHz frequency, which is 4G-ready, once the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) issues licences.

The strategic moves by DTAC are apparently intended to escape the limitations of its current concession contract and move forward with new investment under a new licensing regime.

The announcement came two weeks before the 3G auction on the 2.1-GHz spectrum is scheduled to take place.

Chief executive Jon Eddy Abdullah said DTAC will freeze network investment for the existing 3G trial service using high-speed packet access technology once it obtains a 3G licence.

"We will swing our investment priority to the 2.1-GHz spectrum instead," he said.

DTAC plans to increase the number of 3G base stations to 5,000 sites this year to cover half the population from the current 3,500 bases.

"These 850-MHz networks will be especially designed to serve customers upcountry instead," said Mr Abdullah.

DTAC subsidiary DTAC Network submitted its application to the NBTC to participate in the 3G auction, scheduled to take place on Oct 16.

The other two bidders are Advanced Wireless Network and True's subsidiary Real Future.

Mr Abdullah said DTAC will spend 40 billion baht on 3G over the next three years.

Of the total, 15-20 billion baht is slated for bidding on the 3G licence, another 10 million baht will be used to roll out 3G network nationwide covering half the population within two years, and the rest will be reserved for expanding the 3G network to cover 80% of the population.

"Given our healthy financial status coinciding with strong technical support and whole network upgrade, we're now ready and eager to join the 3G auction," said Mr Abdullah.

He said DTAC expects to start providing 3G service on the 2.1-GHz spectrum by next June.

"We will completely migrate our existing 2G users, who are willing to transfer to the new 2.1-GHz 3G network service within four years," he said.

Even mobile operators could shift from the concession to the licensing system and enjoy substantially lower operating costs, said Mr Abdullah, adding that 3G service charges might not be lower than the existing 2G system based on the fact that operators required large investment on both spectrum fees and network expansion.

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Writer: Srisamorn Phoosuphanusorn & Komsan Tortermvasana