The national telecommunications regulator has confirmed that the planned auctions for the fourth-generation (4G) spectrum will definitely be postponed due to a delay in forming the national digital economy committee.
The suspension could incur 100 billion baht in investment losses plus another 50 billion in lost revenue from the auctions that the regulator will send to the government.
The delay could also affect the development of the digital economy, said ACM Thares Punsri, chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).
The NBTC earlier announced it intended to auction the 42.5-megahertz spectrum by this August since the mobile concession for the 900-MHz spectrum held by Advanced Info Service (AIS) will expire on Sept 30.
The regulator's intention is in line with the junta's order last July 17 that the planned 4G auctions be postponed for a year, meaning the NBTC could start the auction process as soon as this July.
"The 4G auctions will definitely not take place by August as initially planned," ACM Thares said, adding that the NBTC had yet to receive any confirmation from the government to press ahead with the auctions.
He said the NBTC expected to earn no less than 41.6 billion baht from the sale of 4G licences, the amount the regulator earned from auctioning 3G licences in 2012.
Thailand must quickly adopt 4G wireless broadband service to catch up the rapid growth of mobile data use, ACM Thares added.
NBTC vice-chairman Col Settapong Malisuwan conceded the 4G spectrum auction would not take place by August, saying the regulator needed at least six months to prepare for the auction process.
Sittichai Pokaiya-udom, a member of the working committee responsible for transforming the country to a digital economy, acknowledged the 4G auctions should definitely be delayed.
The auctions could take place early next year at the latest, he said.
An industry source said mobile leader AIS was likely to suffer most from the delay, as it had the least bandwidth.
AIS provides 2G mobile service on the 17.5-MHz bandwidth of the 900-MHz spectrum under a concession with TOT, which is due to expire this September.
As of last September, AIS had 43.8 million subscribers, of which 38.7 million were 3G customers on the 2100-MHz network.
The country's largest mobile operator has no plans to start providing commercial 4G service.
Its smaller rival Total Access Communication Plc provides super-fast mobile broadband service in limited areas.
However, third-ranked True Move has nationwide 4G commercial service.
After the concession of AIS expires, the company will have only 15-MHz bandwidth on the 2100-MHz spectrum, the least amount of bandwidth compared with its smaller rivals.
Kittinut Tikawan, chief commercial officer at True Move, said the company expected its 4G network to cover 80% of the population by April.
The aggressive expansion of the 4G network is aimed at accommodating skyrocketing mobile data use.