TOT to provide cheap 3G as service for poor Thais

TOT to provide cheap 3G as service for poor Thais

TOT Plc is repositioning itself as a third-generation (3G) service provider for low-income customers, with the goal of making high-speed wireless broadband available to the poor and low-ranked government officials.

The state telecom previously had positioned itself as a mass-market provider.

"The shift in our position is to suit our role as a state telecom enterprise to provide service for the public interest at large," said Djitt Laowattana, a member of TOT's board.

Target customers will be poor people living in remote areas.

"We plan to give them access to digital financial activities with no bank account required," Mr Djitt said.

TOT has 5,320 3G base stations running on 15 megahertz of bandwidth on the 2100-MHz spectrum.

The enterprise has invested almost 20 billion baht in the 3G network, but the business has proved unsuccessful despite TOT being the first to launch 3G service in the country.

TOT has 100,000 active 3G subscribers through four companies providing 3G service on TOT's network under the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) model.

An MVNO provides mobile service without owning its own network.

Mr Djitt said TOT would soon transform itself into a real telecom network service provider with a network rental service for strategic partners.

The development is expected to generate a new revenue stream for the state enterprise.

TOT's board last November selected Advanced Info Service Plc (AIS) as a strategic partner to provide mobile broadband service on the state telecom's network.

"We expect to officially sign a partnership agreement with AIS next month," Mr Djitt said.

Under a draft 10-year partnership deal, AIS would invest in a mobile network on the 2100-MHz spectrum and be allowed to rent up to 80% of TOT's network capacity until 2025.

The agreement also stipulates AIS must construct an additional 10,000 3G base stations nationwide for TOT.

The country's largest mobile operator would have to pay TOT at least 4 billion baht a year for network rental.

The remaining 20% of network capacity would be reserved for TOT to provide its own wireless broadband to serve low-income earners and low-ranked state officials, Mr Djitt said.

"We plan to introduce low promotional tariff packages starting from 200 baht a month," he said.

In another development, AIS finally agreed to transfer its 13,198 2G base stations to TOT after its concession expired last September, following almost a year of dispute.

AIS ran 2G mobile service on the 900-MHz spectrum under a build-transfer-operate concession contract with TOT.

Regulators last month auctioned two licences for the 900-MHz spectrum, with True Move and JAS Mobile Broadband the winning bidders. Mr Djitt said both AIS and JAS wanted to rent TOT's 900-MHz 2G infrastructure to add network capacity.

AIS shares (ADVANC) closed yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 144.50 baht, up 50 satang, in heavy trade worth 3.55 billion baht.

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