The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) Office is expected to allocate the vacant 3,500-megahertz spectrum band in 2026.
The office is drafting a spectrum management roadmap that includes the 850MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz and 3,500MHz bands. The process is expected to be completed in early 2024.
State telecom agency National Telecom (NT) holds the 850MHz, 2,100MHz and 2,300MHz bands. They revert to the NBTC after the right to use them expires in 2025.
NBTC commissioner Sompob Purivigraipong said the regulator has to prepare a frequency management plan to allocate the spectrum bands during next 2-5 years.
The plan will set a clear path for spectrum resource management, helping telecom and related industries evaluate their business plans and prepare future investment plans, he said.
"A proper period to allocate those spectrum ranges may be from 2026," Mr Sompob said.
He said the NBTC must consider whether the private sector will be eager to bid for the new spectrum licences in the future.
In the past few years, private telecom operators spent large sums to secure spectrum licences at auctions and for network expansion to provide 4G and 5G services nationwide.
Mr Sompob said the NBTC has 400MHz of bandwidth on the 3,500MHz spectrum available for the allocation in the future.
A source at the NBTC who requested anonymity said the regulator set up a working panel to prepare the auction of licences for the range of 3,400-3,700MHz the past few years, but the auction was scrapped after the 5G licence auction finished in February 2020.
The auction of the 3,400-3,700MHz range was to be the second batch of 5G licences, after the first batch was sold in early 2020.
This range is coveted by mobile phone operators for 5G adoption.
According to Ericsson Thailand, the regulator should auction the 3,500MHz spectrum by 2025 to deliver the most economic value and fulfil consumer and enterprise requirements by bolstering 5G development in the country.
If the NBTC cannot allocate the 3,500MHz range by 2025, it may have to reallocate the 2,300MHz spectrum after NT's right to use it expires in 2025.
The reallocation would let existing telecom operators optimise the spectrum as a complement to the existing middle bands they have utilised to offer 5G service, Igor Maurell, head of Ericsson Thailand, said recently.
However, the auction of the 3,500MHz band or reallocation of the 2,300MHz band should be based on affordable prices that attract mobile operators, he said.
The 3,500MHz range is a key middle band for global 5G development and considered a priority range by mobile operators.
Many countries in Europe provide 5G commercial services on the 3,500MHz range through a variety of networks and devices provided by vendors.
Mr Maurell said adoption of 5G on the 3,500MHz band would help Thailand to stay competitive in the region, improving network capability and performance as well as creating value by monetising fixed wireless access for consumers and enterprises.
According to Ericsson estimates, Thailand had 5G population coverage of more than 85% at the end of 2022.
Data consumption per subscription in Thailand is expected to grow from 32.7 gigabytes (GB) per month in 2022 to nearly 80 GB per month in 2025, noted Ericsson.
By 2025, more than 40% of total mobile subscribers in Thailand are expected to be on the 5G network.