Thaicom unlikely to bid for 3 unsold satellite slots
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Thaicom unlikely to bid for 3 unsold satellite slots

Satellite dishes at Thaicom Teleport & DTH Center in Pathum Thani province.
Satellite dishes at Thaicom Teleport & DTH Center in Pathum Thani province.

SET-listed satellite operator Thaicom is unlikely to take part in the planned auction of the 50.5° East, 51°E and 142°E orbital slots, slated to take place between Aug 23 and Sept 7 this year.

According to an executive from Gulf Energy Development who requested anonymity, the slots do not align with Thaicom's long-term investment plan as their coverage of the Caribbean Sea and Middle East could create a challenge for developing commercial markets.

Gulf's wholly-owned subsidiary Gulf Ventures Co Ltd holds 41.1% of the shares in Thaicom.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission's (NBTC) board on May 13 this year endorsed the amended draft of the auction conditions of the three slots which were unsold from the previous auction in January 2023.

In 2023, NBTC held the country's first auction of the use of satellite orbit slots through five packages: 50.5° East and 51°E orbital slots; 78.5°E; 119.5°E and 120°E; 126°E; and 142°E.

Space Tech Innovation (STI), an affiliated company of Thaicom, grabbed the second package and the third package, while National Telecom secured the fourth package.

Pachara Naripthaphan, executive advisor to the NBTC chairman, earlier said the NBTC had amended the auction conditions for a year to handle the two unsold packages of the three slots due to a concern that the country's right to use the slots could be cancelled by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The amendment adjusted several conditions, including expanding a timeline that the winning bidders are required to launch satellites within five years after obtaining the licences, a change from within three years. The amendment also reduced the starting bid prices.

However, the regulator is still concerned over possible bid failures as the number of interested bidders might be fewer than the conditions stipulate and Thaicom is the most likely bidder in the planned auction, Mr Pachara added.

If no company buys a bidding envelope by the timeline, the regulator may have to extend the auction timeline for a month to give more time to prospective bidders to make a decision.


Thaicom chief executive Patompob Suwansiri said the company regularly explores new business opportunities related to geostationary satellites and low-Earth orbit satellites.

For the planned auction of the unsold orbit slots, he said the company's board of directors is expected to make a final decision by mid-August.

Mr Patompob declined to elaborate whether Thaicom would join the planned auction.

"We consider and balance all related matters, including risks, investment portfolio, and business opportunities," he said.

Mr Patompob said the orbits' coverage as well as official conditions of the planned auction are the factors the company will take into consideration.

Last year Thaicom's board of directors gave its subsidiary STI approval to invest in the satellites on the orbital slot of 119.5 degrees East, for a total investment framework of 15.2 billion baht.

The project comprises licence fees for orbital slots at 119.5°E and 78.5°E totalling 797 million baht, together with the construction of three satellites at 119.5°E and other related expenses totalling US$434 million, or 14.4 billion baht.

The construction of the satellites for the orbital slot of 119.5 degrees East must be completed before the end of life of the Thaicom 4 satellite to ensure that Thaicom can continuously provide its services to customers. As a result, the board has given STI approval to construct the satellites for 119.5 degrees East first.

Regarding the 78.5 degrees East orbital slot, within three years after acquiring the orbital slot STI will have to launch a satellite into 78.5 degrees East orbit in order to maintain the operating rights. This allows the company to have some additional time to carefully consider an investment in the satellite project at this orbital slot.

An NBTC source said Thailand is at risk of having its right to use satellite orbit on 50.5 East cancelled as its expiry would be in early 2025 after the long vacancy, despite an extension period given by ITU over the past few years. The right to use the 142°E slot expires in three years.

Prasert Jantararuangthong, the digital economy and society minister, earlier told the Bangkok Post that he was concerned that the country's right to use these unsold orbits would be cancelled by the ITU.

Pisut Nagmvijitvong, senior equity research analyst at Kasikorn Securities, said this matter of expiring rights could turn the planned auction into a political issue if no company was interested in participating in the planned auction.

According to the NBTC Act, the regulator has to protect spectrum resources and the orbit rights as they are national assets.

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