TOT pulls plug on AIS tower talks

TOT pulls plug on AIS tower talks

TOT Plc has chosen to scrap talks with its concessionaire Advanced Info Service on a joint venture proposal to operate telecom tower sites after AIS's second-generation (2G) mobile concession expired.

After several months of negotiations, the state telecom enterprise decided that the joint venture proposed by the country's biggest mobile operator might not be the best course of action, said TOT acting president Monchai Noosong.

AIS had proposed a joint venture to operate 13,198 telecom towers under the build-transfer-operate model after its concession expired on Sept 30.

According to the plan, AIS would invest in the venture in exchange for a potential 49% share, while TOT might have paid nothing for a 51% stake since the state enterprise owns the tower assets.

AIS could have used the telecom towers even after its concession expired.

"We want AIS to transfer all its telecom towers to TOT to comply with the concession terms, instead of allowing the company to operate the assets," Mr Monchai said.

TOT previously granted AIS a 25-year concession to provide 2G mobile service on the 900-megahertz spectrum.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has ordered AIS to continue serving its existing 2.4 million 2G customers for an additional four months to comply with customer retention regulations.

Mr Monchai said the decision to scrap the talks came about because AIS failed to transfer the 13,198 telecom towers to TOT despite the fact that the deal required the concessionaire to transfer telecom assets back to the owner after the concession's expiry.

TOT plans to file a petition against AIS with the Administrative Court, seeking an interim injunction against the mobile operator using the disputed telecom towers.

"We want AIS to transfer the towers and pay rental fees to us in exchange for tower use, instead of being our partner in jointly managing the infrastructure," Mr Monchai said.

AIS, through its subsidiary Advanced Wireless Network, operates 3G service on the 2100-MHz spectrum under a licensing contract. The company has about 40 million subscribers and 20,000 3G base stations nationwide.

TOT is considering managing and operating the telecom towers itself, Mr Monchai said, adding that telecom companies would be allowed to rent the state enterprise's towers.

But an industry source who asked not to be named raised concerns about TOT's ability to manage the towers, saying the state lacks experience and skilled workers.

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