National Telecom risks losing OneWeb partnership deal
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National Telecom risks losing OneWeb partnership deal

Not certain regulator will approve licences

State telecom enterprise National Telecom (NT) is facing a possible risk of losing a partnership deal with low earth orbit (LEO) satellite operator OneWeb to provide gateway station facilities to OneWeb's satellites as it is still uncertain when the telecom regulator will approve the related licences for NT.

A high ranking source in the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society who requested anonymity said the ministry and NT are concerned that OneWeb may consider moving its gateway facilities from Thailand to other countries, particularly Taiwan.

OneWeb is meeting with a major telecom operator in Taiwan on the possibility of moving out of Thailand, the source added.

In April, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) opted to not approve NT's application for licences to operate a service using foreign satellites.

The move has affected its long-awaited operations through its partnership deal with OneWeb regarding its plan to provide gateway station facilities to OneWeb's LEO satellites.

The source added that some operators in Taiwan, including Chunghwa Telecom, are keen on the satellite business.

Previously, Trairat Viriyasirikul, acting-secretary of the NBTC, said the NBTC board on April 9 did not award the landing rights and gateway licences to NT during the board meeting.

The board also assigned management to study all related dimensions involved with the landing rights and gateway licence using foreign satellites and submit the results to the board.

Mr Trairat added satellite operator Thaicom has submitted a letter urging the regulator to carefully consider whether it should award a licence to provide gateway station facilities for a foreign satellite, specifically a satellite broadband service.

The letter also implies possible threats to local satellite service providers which have spent huge amounts of money on their bids for the right to use satellite orbits.

NT president Colonel Sanphachai Huvanandana said NT submitted its proposal for the licences to the NBTC last year in line with the NBTC's new licensing system related to foreign satellites that comprises three categories of licence.

NT needs a licence for landing rights for foreign satellite services and a gateway licence specifically for OneWeb's LEO satellite service.

Through the NBTC's new satellite business regime, the gateway licence is for the company to provide gateway station facilities to foreign satellites. This kind of licence covers all foreign satellites that the licensee would provide gateway facilities to for the foreign satellites' service in the local market.

Col Sanphachai accepted that NT is concerned over the delay that could affect its satellite-related businesses as part of NT's business diversification and to complement of its satellite services portfolio.

Previously, NT entered into a partnership deal with OneWeb to cash in on its existing ground station facilities in Thailand and regional service deployment. NT is expected to be a hub of OneWeb's LEO satellite service for Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam.

NT has already installed equipment related to the station's facilities.

According to NT, the gateway station for OneWeb's LEO connectivity is established at NT's gateway station in Ubon Ratchathani province.

Through the partnership, OneWeb is hiring NT to develop, equip and operate ground station facilities in Thailand at NT's satellite station serving OneWeb's LEO constellation.

The infrastructure and services of the ground station will enable the deployment of commercial broadband services via LEO satellites by OneWeb in Thailand and the region.

NT is responsible for operating the station and the maintenance system. OneWeb will be responsible for the expenses of public utilities and pay a rental fee to NT.

NT's planned operation through a gateway station for OneWeb's LEO was originally set in mid 2023 but has since been delayed due to the process of importing equipment for the ground station's facilities.

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