NBTC eyes portion of 3500MHz for private 5G network
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NBTC eyes portion of 3500MHz for private 5G network

Mr Somphop, centre, and members of the NBTC. The regulator is studying a plan to allocate a portion of the 3500MHz band to create a 5G private network.
Mr Somphop, centre, and members of the NBTC. The regulator is studying a plan to allocate a portion of the 3500MHz band to create a 5G private network.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is studying ways to allocate a portion of the 3500-megahertz band to develop a private 5G network that can promote real use cases for industries and enterprises.

Roughly 100MHz of a total bandwidth of 400MHz on the spectrum may be allocated. The regulator is discussing the matter with related parties, including representatives of telecom operators, vendors, the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand, and the Federation of Thai Industries.

According to NBTC commissioner Somphop Purivigraipong, this portion of bandwidth is expected to be allocated by late next year or early 2025.

Mr Somphop called a meeting on Nov 7 for discussions with telecom networks and vendors, including United Information Highway, Symphony and ALT Telecom Co.

He said the allocation of this portion of bandwidth should be considered carefully in accordance with actual demand and the NBTC's goal to promote a 5G private network for vertical industries.

In principle, the regulator plans to mainly allocate the bandwidth for small to medium-size vendors or industrial estate operators and enterprises located within industrial estates, regardless of whether they collaborate in the deployment of solutions for a 5G private network to serve their operations.

The allocation should not be carried out via an auction, which would see bidders paying a hefty sum for the spectrum bands, said Mr Somphop. The high cost of spectrum investment would create a barrier to promoting a 5G private network, he said.

Mr Somphop said the discussions with related parties raised several interesting options for the allocation.

One option is a revenue-sharing model, where licensees are given a grace period to use the spectrum and start paying a licence fee on a revenue-sharing basis to the NBTC as the grace period expires, or when they reach the break-even point for operations that deploy 5G private network solutions.

However, he said the NBTC is unable to prohibit major mobile phone operators from participating in the allocation process, even if this portion is mainly supposed to be for an industry 5G private network.

The 100MHz portion may be split into multiple licences, some of which would be earmarked for major operators if they are interested, with the remainder for several other vendors and enterprises, said Mr Somphop.

If the major mobile operators are awarded licences for this 5G private network, they would be prohibited from using it to provide mobile phone services to the mass market, or roaming with the existing 2600MHz allocation they acquired in 2020, according to the NBTC.

He said the regulator should minimise spectrum cost for the allocated portion to efficiently promote adoption and create real benefits for the country.

5G adoption in the mass market has yet to make the most of the technology's capabilities as most consumers use it for functions such as video streaming and to complement their 4G service, said Mr Somphop.

Too few factories utilise 5G capacity, as there are only a small number of real use cases for them to follow, he said.

Mr Somphop previously said the NBTC was expected to allocate the entire 3500MHz band in 2026.

The NBTC is drawing up a management roadmap for the vacant portion of the 3500MHz band, together with the 850MHz, 2100MHz and 2300MHz spectrums. The draft is expected to be ready by early next year.

National Telecom holds the right to use the 850MHz, 2100MHz and 2300MHz bands, which is due to expire and be returned to the NBTC in 2025.

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