Mobile data consumption set to explode in wake of 3G arrival

The imminent arrival of third-generation wireless broadband in Thailand, more than a decade after the world's first 3G rollout, will fuel spending on the country's telecommunications network.

Major mobile operators have announced plans to spend a combined 130 billion baht on network construction over the next three years to serve the expected extraordinary growth in mobile data consumption.

Under the 3G licensing terms laid out by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), winners of next Tuesday's bidding are required to have their 3G networks cover half the population within two years of obtaining a licence and 80% within two years after that.

Advanced Info Service (AIS), the country's largest mobile operator, will spend 50 billion baht on 3G network construction if it obtains a licence.

AIS is operating mobile service on the 900-megahertz frequency under a TOT concession that will expire in 2015.

Titipong Khiewpaisal, AIS's senior vice-president for marketing and sales, said the 2.1-gigahertz spectrum will fuel the local mobile data market, especially upcountry.

The number of 3G-enabled wireless devices in Thailand will reach 13 million this year and 20 million next year thanks to declining prices of smartphones and tablets, he said.

Total Access Communication Plc (DTAC), the No. 2 mobile operator, has earmarked 40 billion baht for network investment next year, 90% of it slated for 3G network construction.

Chief executive Jon Eddy Abdullah said DTAC will this year finish installing 5,200 3G base stations on the 850-MHz spectrum, covering half the population.

The company has reserved funds for the 2.1-GHz 3G spectrum cost and network rollout.

Mr Abdullah urged the NBTC to reduce the need for operators to set up 3G base stations in the same areas in order to avoid investment duplication.

DTAC is developing a new billing system, restructuring its business and upgrading customer service in anticipation of the explosion in mobile data traffic.

The No. 3 mobile operator True Move, meanwhile, will spend at least 10 billion baht to build a 3G network on the 2.1-GHz spectrum.

The first phase will cover mainly Bangkok and other major provinces.

The company's existing 3G service, under the True Move H brand, will be aimed at upcountry markets.

Chief executive Suphachai Chearavanont said True Move will likely settle a deal with a strategic partner, probably Asian or European, to provide 3G technical expertise and financial support.

``Having 3G on the 2.1-GHz spectrum will give all operators a new industry standard on a level playing field,'' he said.

Mr Suphachai said True has high hopes for the new 3G service.

``We intend to become the 3G market leader under the new licensing system,'' he said.

Meanwhile, TOT Plc is preparing to install a 4G long-term evolution network in its second phase.

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Writer: Komson Tortermvasana and Suchit Leesa-Nguansuk