Thailand’s regulator the NBTC (National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission) has again pushed back the sale of spectrum in the 850MHz and 1.8GHz bands.
The highly anticipated auctions cannot be held until a new board takes over the regulator, which will occur later this year. The current acting board’s six-year term ended in October last year, and they will be unable to enact any policies from the end of this month. While the new board could be chosen as soon as April, an auction would not be able to take place before September, according to NBTC board member Prawit Leesathapornwongsa.
This is particularly bad news for third-placed dtac, since the operator holds concessions with state-owned CAT Telecom that are due to expire in September. The concessions allow dtac to offer 2G services via the 850MHz and 1.8GHz spectrum owned by CAT.
The NBTC board gave the go-ahead to the original plan for the auctions, but despite this draft passing a public hearing in December 2017, it was shelved in favour of a revised plan which has still not received approval from the acting board since some members disagree with the proposals to increase the number of available slots in the 1.8GHz band from three to nine in order to make the auction more competitive.
Dtac will be particularly sore about the fresh delay as the NBTC announced in September 2017 that it would hold the auctions in January 2018 - three months earlier than originally scheduled – specifically so that the operator could maintain continuity of service after its concessions ended.
Two months after this announcement, the regulator delayed the auctions to May with licences due to be awarded in June, which would have granted dtac customers a brief window to transfer.
Dtac, which is owned by Norway’s Telenor, holds just 50MHz of spectrum and will lose 35MHz when its 2G concessions run out. Its remaining 15MHz of 2.1GHz spectrum will make it hard to cope with the sharp uptick in mobile data traffic. The operator did not take part in the spectrum auctions at the end of 2015 that generated THB232.66 billion ($7.4 billion) for the government.
The operator has a 24% share of the Thai mobile market, with 22.7 million connections at the end of 2017. Of these, 450,000 are 2G users under its two concessions with CAT.