Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thailand - AIS's 3G plan attacked

[bangkokpost] Five companies providing 3G services in Bangkok for TOT Plc are crying foul over a plan by the mobile market leader Advanced Info Service (AIS) to partner with the state telecom enterprise, with one threatening to quit the business.

TOT, meanwhile, has cautioned that it would be impossible for AIS to start offering the services on Feb 1 as the latter had claimed, because more details have to be negotiated.

The planned co-operation between TOT and AIS was just for a trial period and no firm conclusion had been reached, said Vichian Narkseenuan, senior executive vice-president and head of the TOT 3G project.

He added that allowing unlimited data roaming by AIS customers on the TOT network would be impossible, since only 500,000 numbers are available, which places severe limits on the number of customers and amount of data that can be handled.

Other concerns over network congestion and business agreement conditions with the five existing operators need further work, said Mr Vichian.

The five companies currently are operating under a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) business model. They are Samart I-Mobile, Loxley, 365 Communication, IEC International and M Consultant Corporation.

TOT is offering the high-speed mobile broadband service initially through 548 base stations in Bangkok and surrounding areas. The second-phase _ to add 3,800 base stations worth 20 billion baht _ remains stalled as the government has yet to clarify regulations for 3G licence auctions.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has been unable to hold the auction because of questions about the bidding terms, which appear not to favour the state telecom enterprises, and questions about its legal authority.

An executive of one of the MVNO companies said the five operators would be forced out of business if AIS joined the service, given the latter's huge size, with 30 million customers, and financial resources.

''We will immediately end our services if TOT allows AIS to join,'' said the executive, who asked not to be named.

Two other providers said TOT had never told them anything about the possibility of participation by AIS, which in any case would breach the MVNO agreements with the five operators.

Suroj Lamsam, the executive vice-president of Loxley for the MVNO project, said the even though TOT had the right to allow AIS to offer the service, it would be unfair to the others since the mobile leader had such a huge advantage in terms of distribution and airtime refill points.

In any case, he said market response to TOT's month-old 3G service had been low so far because of the state enterprise's weak marketing and advertising activities, while the MVNOs themselves were weak in distribution and operational management.

The second-ranked mobile operator DTAC said stepped-up 3G activity by AIS would affect the company as long as 3G licensing was still unclear.

Chief marketing officer Thana Thienachariya said DTAC this week asked its concession holder, CAT Telecom, for permission to expand 3G coverage in Bangkok by at least 500 base stations.

DTAC now has only 40 3G cell sites in inner Bangkok to provide 3G trial service.

Mr Thana urged CAT to quickly approve the upgrade, as both CAT and DTAC would benefit. DTAC is open to a co-operation deal for 3G with TOT if licensing remains stalled, he said.

AIS's 3G plan attacked

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