NBTC: 700MHz licences set for sale

NBTC: 700MHz licences set for sale

The country's three major mobile operators are expected to agree to buy 700MHz licences by Wednesday's due date, despite opposition to a 17.58-billion-baht price tag deemed too high relative to spectrum costs in other countries.

Advanced Info Service (AIS), True Move H Universal Communication (TUC) and Total Access Communication (DTAC) have differing reasons for buying a licence, but all three are likely to do so.

"We're confident in the success of the 700MHz allocation for sale," said Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

TUC expects to be the first company to submit a proposal at the auspicious time of 9.39am, followed by AIS at 9.59 and DTAC at 11am, according to a high-ranking source at the NBTC.

While the 17.58-billion-baht price seems high, it comes with two attractive conditions, said Pisut Ngamvijitvong, senior analyst at Kasikorn Securities.

First, operators are allowed to extend the existing 900MHz licence payment term by five years as ruled by Section 44; and second, the licence has no network roll-out requirement timeline.

Mr Pisut said TUC will likely buy a licence of the 700MHz mainly in exchange for an extension on its last term of the 900MHz licence payment.

AWN is expected to buy the 700MHz licence for "time to market" reasons to keep a leading position in the race to 5G adoption, apart from the benefits in interest costs from the 900MHz payment extension.

For DTAC, Mr Pisut said the company holds the least bandwidth on the low-band spectrum range among the three operators. That would put pressure on DTAC's corporate image, reducing its competitiveness if it fails to buy a licence.

"AWN is seen as having low pressure for the last payment term of the 900MHz licence, as the company has been reserving a budget for the payment by reducing the rate of dividend payments to shareholders for years," he said.

AIS is the largest mobile operator in the market. To maintain this position, it needs to make clear it is paving the way towards 5G development.

"Holding a licence on the 700MHz range is not a spectrum licence alone," Mr Pisut said. "Operators can claim they hold a range that paves the way for 5G tech."

The 700MHz licence is fixed at 17.58 billion baht. The terms of the licence payments are set in 10-year instalments, meaning buyers will have to pay just 1.75 billion baht a year.

The 700MHz licence conditions have no requirements for a network roll-out timeline, so there is no pressure for an investment framework.

AIS holds the highest amount of spectrum bandwidth through a variety of spectrum ranges among rivals, Mr Pisut said, but AIS may suffer if it doesn't buy a 700MHz licence, and TUC can claim it's the first-mover with a licence for what is expected to become the 5G range.

"700MHz could be optimised for 4G service before 5G has been commercially launched," he said. "Half of the smartphones in the market support 4G service on 700MHz too."

Mr Takorn said that after submission the operators have to register and the NBTC will allow the buyers to select the slot they need to buy.

The NBTC is allocating 30MHz of bandwidth on the 700MHz range for sale to the three major operators, comprising 703-733MHz for upload and 758-788MHz for download.

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