NBTC mulls loans for telecom firms

NBTC mulls loans for telecom firms

Scheme part of 5G investment incentives

A robotic system is one of many futuristic projects being tested at the 5G AI/IoT Innovation Centre at Chulalongkorn University requires 5G internet. Mobile operators have been reluctant to bid for the required spectra for 5G networks. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
A robotic system is one of many futuristic projects being tested at the 5G AI/IoT Innovation Centre at Chulalongkorn University requires 5G internet. Mobile operators have been reluctant to bid for the required spectra for 5G networks. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

The telecom regulator plans to use the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund (BTRDF) to provide low-interest loans to mobile operators as an alternative source of funding to expedite 5G-related investment.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) wants to encourage major operators to invest in 5G wireless broadband infrastructure as the technology is set to launch commercially in 2020.

The regulator is also considering more flexible draft conditions for the planned auctions of several spectrum ranges.

On Monday, Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC, said Thailand needs to be a leading player in Asean for 5G adoption.

"The adoption of 5G infrastructure requires huge investment and the business use cases are still immature. As the regulator, we want to ease the burdens for operators and promote infrastructure investment for the benefit of the country," he said on the sidelines of the opening ceremony for the 5G AI/IoT Innovation Centre at Chulalongkorn University.

He said the BTDRF has 40 billion baht that continues to earn fees from telecom companies and digital TV operators.

The NBTC earns an interest rate of about 1.5% on the fund.

The money would be better applied to specific purposes such as the 5G infrastructure development and a spectrum auction that directly helps boost vertical industries and the country's competitiveness, said Mr Takorn.

Telecom operators have paid into the fund through licences and operational fees that are then used to develop network infrastructure in remote areas.

If the NBTC provides loans to telecom operators at an interest rate equivalent to what the fund receives from banks, the NBTC or the state would not be losing benefits.

Telecom operators would get lower-interest loans compared with what they borrow from commercial banks.

The NBTC will start studying loan details for 5G infrastructure investment this week, especially regarding the legalities. If the fund's conditions need amendment, the NBTC will make the necessary changes.

The NBTC is preparing to auction 700MHz licences originally scheduled for May this year. Money from the 700MHz auction has been partially allotted to subsidise the operating costs of digital TV operators.

The three major mobile operators have expressed no interest in participating in the auction, mostly due to financial reasons.

The operators have said the commercial launch of 5G in Thailand should be in 2021, or 1-2 years after the global market launch in 2020.

The NBTC is trying to draft conditions for other spectrum ranges that are due for auction this year, including the 26 and 28 gigahertz as well as the 2600MHz ranges, to attract major operators.


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