[bangkokpost] The country's largest mobile operator has given a mixed response to the government's proposal for Thailand to adopt 3.9G wireless broadband technology, after five years of failure to start third-generation (3G) services.
Advanced Info Service said 3.9G was a good idea but reallocation of spectrum, as well as the readiness of equipment and handset makers, must be taken into account.
AIS chief executive Wichian Mektrakarn said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) had shown a progressive vision by proposing to move straight to 3.9G and bypass the stillborn 3G. However, he said limited bandwidth resources may make it difficult to adopt the new technology, which offers speeds 20 times faster than 3G.
The NTC last month announced a plan to skip issuing 3G licences and instead auction three 3.9G licences by September. Commercial services could begin by the end of this year in the best case.
While 3G services are available in Laos and Cambodia, only limited trial services are available in Thailand to this day. Past attempts by the NTC to auction 3G licences have failed because of frequent changes in government and disagreements over the regulator's legal authority.
The new 3.9G licences would be for 15 Megahertz of bandwidth and would be valid for 15 years. The NTC previously planned to auction four 3G licences: three for 10MHz and one for 15MHz.
Bid prices are expected to start at 10 billion baht per licence and could reach 12.5 billion.
An NTC board member said that the auction would use an SMR (simultaneous multiple-round) method meaning that all licences would be open for bids simultaneously but the number awarded would be based on the number of bidders passing pre-qualification tests.
For example, if three bidders passed the pre-qualification stage, only two licences would be open for auction, and if two bidders passed the test, only one licence would be available. As long as there were more bidders than licences, there would be price competition, he said.
3.9G technology is more advanced than 3G but based on the same 2.1 GHz frequencies. It allows 20 times faster data transmission, 100 Mbps for downlink peak rates and 50 Mbps for uplink, using the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard.
Operators can upgrade their existing 3G on GSM or high-speed downlink packet access networks to 3.9G LTE, without having to build new base stations.
But Mr Wichian said 15 MHz would be insufficient for 3.9G services. "At least 20 MHz of carrier bandwidths are needed for each operator to support commercial data-focused traffic in reality."
AIS was ready financially to move to 3.9G, he said, but a lack of compatible equipment and handsets would be a barrier.
Nattawat Woranopakul, country manager of HTC Thailand, said that only smartphones, accounting for just 10% of the mobile market currently, could be used for 3.9G.
Data transmission speeds of current smartphone models in Thailand are mainly in the range of 3.6 to 7.2 Mbps, the minimum for 3.9G. Some HTC models offer speeds up to 14.4 Mbps.
He said new chipsets might have to be made for 3.9G handsets, which could be quite expensive initially.
Mixed response to 3.9G among operators