Tight 3G race spurs price war

Firms slash rates for smartphone data plans

The coming of full commercial third-generation (3G) service and the busy rolling out of high-end smartphones are putting intense pressure on mobile operators and triggering a data price war.

Attendees check out deals at the opening of the Thailand Mobile Expo at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center yesterday. The event runs until Sunday. WISIT THAMNGERN

Anticipated stiff competition is expected to spur overall mobile handset sales in Thailand to top 20 million units next year, up from 14 million this year.

Sales of smartphone are set to reach 6 million units this year, while the total smartphone installed base will top 12 million units.

At the four-day Thailand Mobile Expo, which started yesterday, mobile leader Advanced Info Service (AIS) and No.3 True Move are introducing promotional data bundle prices, starting at 399 baht per month for first-time bundling for high-end smartphone users, a sharp decline from the current monthly fee of 899 baht.

Operators are also offering 10-month instalment payment plans, with AIS offering as much as 20-month instalments at the four-day event at Queen National Sirikit Convention Centre.

Second-ranked Total Access Communication is offering subsidised smartphone prices with discounts up to 50% on some models.

Opas Cherdpunt, the managing director of M Vision, organiser of the Thailand Mobile Expo, the country's largest mobile exhibition, acknowledged that competition at this year's expo is the toughest event since its inception six years ago.

The intense competition is driven mainly by the coming of Apple's iPhone 5 and Nokia Lumia 920 next month.

Mr Opas said competition among mobile operators is also pressuring handset makers to slash their prices significantly.

For instance, the price of the BlackBerry Torch 9860 has slid to 9,900 baht from 15,900 baht, while the Nokia Lumia 900 has dropped to 11,900 baht from 18,900 baht.

Samsung also rolled out its Galaxy Note2, a hybrid smartphone/tablet or phonelet, ahead of the iPhone 5.

The South Korean firm is offering bundled packages with the big three mobile operators at 22,900 baht.

LG also launched its pre-booking Optimus Vu priced at 18,900 baht to compete directly with the Galaxy Note2.

Mr Opas said M Vision increased the exhibition space by 50% this year and could have sold all of it thanks to the arrival of new tablets.

He said tablet prices are being offered at discounts of 30-50%, ahead of the arrival of Windows-based tablet later this month.

IT distributors are flocking to this year's event to sell their smartphones.

Pratthana Leelapanang, AIS's acting senior vice-president for digital product and service, said the company has 10 million data users out of 34 million subscribers

But only 40% of total data users are active users, he said.

AIS is introducing a Movie Store for the first time in the industry by bundling the service with Samsung and GTH to exclusively offer content for AIS customers to download and stream free of charge until the end of this year.

Mr Pratthana said video streaming will be a key content to drive data consumption. In developed countries, video makes up 60% of total content compared with only 10% in the Thai market.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Suchit Leesa-nguansuk
Position: Senior Reporter