AIS set to clinch 900MHz licence

AIS set to clinch 900MHz licence

Other likely bidders opt out of re-auction

Takorn Tantasith (second right) secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), accepts the application from Suthichai Cheunchoosil, AIS senior vice-president for business relations and development, for AIS to be the lone bidder at next week's restart of the last 4G auction. (Bangkok Post photo)
Takorn Tantasith (second right) secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), accepts the application from Suthichai Cheunchoosil, AIS senior vice-president for business relations and development, for AIS to be the lone bidder at next week's restart of the last 4G auction. (Bangkok Post photo)

Advanced Info Service (AIS) looks set to be named winner of the 900-megahertz spectrum re-auction next week, after the top industry player made good on its pledge to take up the licence forfeited by JAS Mobile Broadband.

It has now become clear that two other players, Total Access Communication (DTAC) and True Move, will not take part in the contentious 900MHz auction, whose first iteration saw JAS win a licence, only to default on its first payment of 8.04 billion baht, plus bank guarantees, for the remaining sum.

AIS, through its subsidiary Advanced Wireless Network (AWN), submitted its bidding documents for the 900MHz auction to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) Wednesday, just two hours before the 4.30pm deadline.

In one industry veteran's view, AIS was forced to make a bid this time "in exchange for an extension of the right to retain its existing 400,000-strong 2G customer base".

The government has allowed AIS to continue offering its 2G mobile services on the 900MHz network (previously owned by AIS) until June 30 or until the winner of a new 900MHz auction is announced, by invoking special powers under Section 44, a law that gives Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the authority to issue orders based on national security interests.

The state has also used Section 44 to order the re-auction of the 900MHz spectrum on May 27.

A high-ranking government official said AIS had no choice but to take part in the new auction round if the company wanted to enter into a partnership with TOT Plc to provide 3G service on the state telecom enterprise's own 2100MHz spectrum.

Advanced Info Service (AIS) was founded April 24, 1986, by then-struggling ex-police officer Thaksin Shinawatra. He sold it to Singapore's Temasek Holdings in 2006.

Although AIS already signed a memorandum of understanding with TOT in March, no partnership contract appears to exist.

The deal with TOT was just a trial agreement, not a commercial service launch, the government official said.

"AIS needs to follow up on its pledge to high-ranking authorities to take part in the re-auction in exchange for being allowed to retain its 2G customer base," the official said.

AIS must bid for the 4G licence at the new reserve price -- JAS's winning bid of 75.65 billion baht. The company can immediately clinch the licence at that price during the first 20-minute round.

AIS only has a combined 30MHz from its 2100MHz and 1800MHz licences. The company could add another 10MHz of bandwidth on the 900MHz spectrum to its portfolio, bringing its combined bandwidth total to 40MHz after the re-auction.

DTAC has a combined 50MHz of active operating bandwidth, though that number will substantially drop to only 15MHz after its concession with CAT Telecom expires in 2018.

Third-ranked operator True Move has a combined 55MHz of bandwidth on the 900-, 1800-, 2100- and 850MHz bands (the last of which is under a contract with the previous concession owner, CAT Telecom).

AIS currently has 40 million subscribers, while DTAC has 25.5 million users and True Move 20.4 million.

While AIS and True have picked up bidding documents for the 900MHz auction, True Move opted out of next week's May 27 re-auction, saying it has a comprehensive spectrum portfolio with sufficient bandwidth to provide efficient wireless broadband service for the next 3-5 years.

True also said it wanted to reduce the financial exposure of its mobile business and promote a competitive environment in the industry.

The company's subsidiary True Move H Universal Communication won the second licence for the 900MHz spectrum in December's auction for 76.29 billion baht.

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC, said the regulator's telecom committee will announce the qualified bidders by May 23. AIS has to take part in a mock auction on May 25.

The re-auction of the 900MHz spectrum will take place on May 27, with the regulator announcing the winner within seven days of the auction.


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