Talks between NT and operators ditched
Board seeking ways to return spectrum
The possible partnership deals between state-run National Telecom (NT) and the two major private telecom operators have definitely been scrapped, following the changing competition landscape in the telecom sector, mainly driven by the planned merger between True Corporation and Total Access Communication.
Meanwhile, NT board and management is dusting off its plan to discuss with the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) possible ways to return its 700-megahertz band to the regulator for reallocation in future.
According to a source at the NT board, who requested anonymity, NT cannot compete with private operators for 5G service in the mass market, especially when the business landscape is rapidly changing with the merger deal between True Corp and DTAC.
Their planned merger means the mobile phone service market will have only two giant players, the True-DTAC merged entity and Advanced Info Service, with almost 95% of combined subscriber base.
More importantly, AIS -- the largest mobile operator -- and True Move H Universal Communication (TUC) -- the second largest -- have no need for further negotiations with NT after no advance in talks over possible partnership deals in the past six months.
For True Corp, the source said it is also believed not to further move ahead the talks between NT and TUC as True group would acquire much more spectrum capacity from the merger with DTAC in the future.
Previously, NT was in talks with both AIS and TUC for the initial proposals' conditions of partnership through NT's 700-MHz band investment and cellular stations expansion.
The move started last year after TOT won the 26-gigahertz licence, while CAT Telecom grabbed the 700-MHz licence in the auction in February 2020.
Principally, AIS and TUC planned to invest in the expansion of their cellular sites and allow NT to rent their networks for operation, while private operators may rent some spectrum capacity from NT's spectrum ranges too. However, the talks have yet to reach final details.
The source at the NT board said the partnership talks with NT were initiated by TUC while AIS followed suit to share benefits from the business model TUC would acquire from the negotiation with NT.
"NT is forced to reposition its stance, targeting to focus only on infrastructure sharing and last-mile connections providing for other operators instead," the source said.
Additionally, the source said NT has to continuously reduce fixed costs, especially salary expenditure. NT now has almost 18,000 employees and cash flow of around 100 billion baht.
Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanysorn told the Bangkok Post that decision-making and management are the most critical issues to handle with its 5G business strategy and implementing a clear roadmap.
NT can no longer prolong ambiguity of its 5G business plan as it would have a bad effect on business, Mr Chaiwut said.
NT's planned return of its 700-magahertz licence to the telecom regulator is among three alternatives in NT's 5G business plan, comprising operating its own 5G service under NT Mobile brand, renting out 700-MHz spectrum capacity through partnerships, and return the 700-MHz licence to the NBTC.
NT's board has yet to approve capital expenditure and operation expenses for its 5G business through spectrum ranges NT won in the 2020 auction.
The proposal related to many items of capital expenditure worth 20-30 billion and operation expenses of 40-50 billion cover through valid terms of the NT 5G licences, to capitalise on wireless broadband ecosystem in the new economy.
Suttisak Tantayotin, deputy secretary-general of the NBTC, said existing NBTC regulations do not allow licensees to return spectrum licences they won to the regulator.
Return of spectrum licences to the regulator would impact state benefits as the licensee is obligated to place licence payment instalments until the end of the payment term.
However, Mr Sutisak said a royal decree of tech convergence under Section 30 of the amended NBTC law recently came into effect, allowing more flexible criteria of applying for additional business licences, spectrum licence transfers and spectrum licensing regime through other means, not only via auctions.
This means the licensee can sell or transfer its spectrum licence as well as some part of spectrum capacity to others.