Mobile operators rage on 700MHz reserve price

Mobile operators rage on 700MHz reserve price

Three mobile phone operators cried foul over the reserve price of the planned 700-megahertz licence allocation being set at 17.58 billion baht, saying it is too expensive amid uncertainty over 5G use and future income contribution.

At a hearing on Wednesday, the 700MHz reserve price was the centre of debate for three major mobile phone operators: Advanced Info Service (AIS), True Corporation and Total Access Communication (DTAC).

They said the reserve price is too expensive relative to frequency sales in other countries. Operators are also uncertain about how 5G will be used in the future and the income they can expect from the technology.

The reserve price will be difficult to change because the licences will be put on sale using Section 44, not through a normal auction process.

Section 44 allows the three mobile operators to postpone paying the final batch of 900MHz licence fees for five years if they participate in the 700MHz sale.

AIS, the country's largest mobile operator by subscribers, suggested the regulator should allow companies that buy 700MHz spectrum licences to prematurely return their licences without penalty if the bandwidth is not worth the investment.

The 700MHz range is a low-band spectrum, which can be used for covering mobile signals, a so-called coverage band, but 4G service in Thailand already covers more than 90% of the population nationwide, said Suthep Tamanuwat, head of business relations and development at AIS.

To provide 5G service, more spectrum bandwidth, particularly in the middle and high bands, is needed for better capacity for mobile phone connections, he said.

Chakkrit Urairat, deputy director for regulatory issues at True Corporation, urged the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to tweak the price based on purchasing power and real value for using the range.

Given that commercial use for the 5G system via the 700MHz range is not expected globally until a few years, operators who hold the 700MHz licences may not be able to fully utilise the range, he said.

"The reserve price of the 700MHz licence should not be based on the valuation of the previous 900MHz licence because there are different issues this time," Mr Chakkrit said.

Narupon Rattanasamaharn, senior vice-president for regulatory affairs at DTAC, said the exorbitant licence cost could create a burden for 5G development. He said the price of a 10MHz slot on the 700MHz range averaged 7.35 billion baht in Europe.

In Asia, two countries have auctioned 700MHz bands. Taiwan fetched 10 billion for 10MHz of bandwidth and Singapore 15.4 billion baht.

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC, said the NBTC will gather all opinions and decide on the licence details by the end of this month.

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