NBTC shutting down 2G to ease 5G entry
The telecom regulator is set to shut down the existing 2G network by October 2019 to give mobile operators more efficient network capacity and pave the way to 5G wireless broadband service by 2020.
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is encouraging all 5.2 million 2G subscribers to transfer to 3G and 4G systems, which will save them money because the voice service tariff is lower.
The three major telecom operators have been pushing for the move for months, on the condition that 2G subscribers must not spend more for the transition. The operators may have to subsidise new handsets for existing 2G users for the transition. They must also prepare all related backup systems to serve the transition to 3G and 4G systems, including new promotional packages.
Oct 31, 2019 is the initial deadline for the 2G system shutdown, as the NBTC and telecom operators think 10 months is sufficient for the entire process, said Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC.
He said the plan will be submitted to the NBTC board for approval at the next meeting before the regulator moves ahead with the three measures of the transition.
First, operators must suspend all related 2G equipment to serve the plan, as 2G equipment supply is being reduced and the NBTC office will not allow any imports of 2G equipment.
Second, the NBTC and operators will raise public awareness and details of the transition in January 2019.
Third, operators have to prepare for transition operations, including handset giveaways to existing 2G users and new promotion packages after the transfer for which the voice service package will be cheaper.
There are 126 million mobile subscribers in the country, of which 120.8 million operate on 3G and 4G, with 5.2 million on 2G networks.
Of the 5.2 million 2G users, 2 million are under Advanced Info Service (AIS), 1 million under TrueMove H Universal Communication and 2.2 million under Total Access Communication (DTAC).
Mr Takorn said existing 2G users will benefit when they are transferred to the 3G and 4G systems because the 3G and 4G tariff rates are lower than 2G rates.
The NBTC has ruled that the maximum voice tariff for 2G service is 0.99 baht per minute. Operators offer the service for 0.97 baht per minute on average.
For 3G and 4G services, the NBTC ruled that the maximum voice tariff is 0.69 baht per minute. Operators offer the service for 0.60 baht per minute on average.
The NBTC ruled that the maximum rate for data tariff is 0.26 baht per megabyte. The average rate offered by operators is 0.14 baht.
After transferring to 3G and 4G systems, existing 2G users will benefit from using voice over internet protocol (VoIP), such as with the chat app Line, which consumes very low bandwidth, Mr Takorn said.
Some countries have already shut down their 2G systems, including Japan in 2011, Taiwan and Singapore in 2017 and Australia in April 2018. The US is set to shut down 2G by 2020.