NT strives for clear 5G investment plan

NT strives for clear 5G investment plan

Clarity in National Telecom (NT)'s 5G investment plan is expected to be seen by the end of this year as the company figures out ways to end uncertainty over its business outlook.

NT, which was formed through the merger of CAT Telecom and TOT in January, paid for the first instalment of the 700-megahertz spectrum licence fee in March. The first instalment cost 3.6 billion baht.

The 700MHz band was obtained through CAT Telecom, which won the licence in the 5G spectrum auction in February last year. Plans for the 5G investment have yet to emerge from NT.

Now, the return of the 700MHz range to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has emerged as one of the three options to be considered by NT.

Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, minister of Digital Economy and Society, told the Bangkok Post that NT can no longer prolong the ambiguity of its 5G business plan as it would badly affect its future business roadmap.

There are three options for 5G investments that the NT board and management may have to consider, according to Mr Chaiwut.

First, NT may have to run 5G services through its own brand and work with other parties on marketing activities.

Second, the company may sell a major portion of its 5G spectrum capacity to other mobile operators through partnership deals and keep a certain portion for social and public services.

Lastly, NT may have to have discussions with the NBTC regarding the return of its 700MHz band for re-allocation.

"If NT decides to return the spectrum to the NBTC, that would not be strange or something that cannot be done," said Mr Chaiwut.

The return of the spectrum to the NBTC can be made under a deal for "state benefit".

The resolution on 5G strategic business is up to the NT board to consider, Mr Chaiwut added.

But Sutisak Tantayotin, deputy secretary-general of the NBTC, stressed that existing NBTC regulations do not allow licensees to return spectrum to the regulator without consequences.

If the regulator reorganises the auction but sees no one participating, NT would have to pay a fine and make payments.

The two slots on the 700MHZ range which NT obtained through last year's auction cost 34.3 billion baht.

Mr Sutisak said that if the new auction is held and the winning price is less than that of the previous auction, NT would be charged the price difference.

He said Section 30 of the amended NBTC Act allows licensees to sell the spectrum rights to others. However, subordinate legislation concerning such a condition has yet to be published in the Royal Gazette.

NT is in talks with Advanced Info Service and True Move H Universal Communication over a proposed partnership of NT's 700-MHz band investment with their networks and cellular stations. However, the talks have not yet reached the final stage.

A source on the NT board said that a feasibility proposal by NT's management for the 5G business remains unconvincing in the eyes of the board.

The proposal involves 20-30 billion baht in capital expenditure and 40-50 billion baht in operating expenses for the 5G plan.

The source said NT management needs to explore all alternatives of investment and operation to ensure a long-term revenue stream.

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