Thai court clears way for 3G launch

Thai legal authorities have rejected calls for an inquiry into the recent auction of 3G licenses that would have further delayed the rollout of the technology in a country already seen as the region’s outstanding mobile telecoms laggard.

In a filing last month, the Office of the Ombudsman reflected the views of various critics that the auction process was flawed, with bidders receiving the maximum number of licenses allowed despite making offers that only just met reserve pricing.

Thai legal authorities have rejected calls for an inquiry into the recent auction of 3G licenses that would have further delayed the rollout of the technology in a country already seen as the region’s outstanding mobile telecoms laggard.

In a filing last month, the Office of the Ombudsman reflected the views of various critics that the auction process was flawed, with bidders receiving the maximum number of licenses allowed despite making offers that only just met reserve pricing.

DTAC (Bangkok, Thailand) and True Corp (Bangkok, Thailand) each won three 5MHz slots of 2.1GHz spectrum – the maximum permitted – with bids of just THB13.5 billion ($441 million), the minimum allowed.

Meanwhile, AIS (Bangkok, Thailand), Thailand’s biggest mobile-phone operator, paid the slightly higher fee of THB14.63 billion for its own 15MHz allocation.

Critics have suggested that bidders may have colluded on pricing.

Thailand’s Central Administrative Court, however, ruled that the Ombudsman did not have the right to intervene in a process under the authority of Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

The NBTC is due to provide details of the timeframe for the issuance of licenses, but seems likely to provide them by the end of the year.

That would allow Thailand to officially enter the 3G community at a time of soaring interest in data communications and smartphone devices among Thai consumers, but several years later than the region’s most developed economies.

In the absence of a 2.1GHz option, AIS, DTAC and True Corp have been using previously awarded 850MHz and 900MHz spectrum to provide 3G services.

Using this spectrum, however, the private-sector companies have had to pay a share of their 3G revenues to Thailand’s state-owned operators under so-called Build Transfer Operate (BTO) obligations.

No BTO conditions have been attached to the 2.1GHz licenses.

The award of those licenses was originally delayed because the NBTC, the auctioning body, had only just been established and lacked any legal authority.

CAT Telecom (Bangkok, Thailand), one of the state-owned operators set to lose out from the scrapping of BTO conditions, subsequently complained when licensing authority was transferred to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), arguing that the process should be handled by the NBTC.