Total Access, Advanced win Thai mobile permits for US$754 million

A man uses a smartphone as he rides an escalator in Bangkok, Thailand. Thai carriers spent 233 billion baht buying up airwaves in the past couple of years. (Bloomberg pic)

BANGKOK: Advanced Info Service Pcl, Thailand’s biggest wireless operator, and third-placed Total Access Communication Pcl won licenses in the country’s spectrum auction for a combined US$754 million (25 billion baht).

Each firm won a single 1,800 MHz permit for 12.5 billion baht, the National Broadcasting & Telecommunications Commission Secretary General Takorn Tantasith said after the conclusion of the auction on Sunday in Bangkok. The other major operator, True Corp, sat out the sale of the 15-year licenses.

The permit will help Telenor ASA-backed Total Access Communication ensure continuity of service as some of the operator’s concessions expire in September. Advanced Info Service, which is backed by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., could use its license to cement its position as the top carrier in Thailand.

“More spectrum enables Total Access to offer a smooth transition when concessions expire,” said Veeravat Virochpoka, an analyst at Finansia Syrus Securities Pcl in Bangkok. “Otherwise subscribers may flee to rivals. Advanced Info can market itself as having greater bandwidth.”

Thailand offered nine licenses in the auction, with the other seven unsold.

Sticker shock

An earlier attempt to auction just three 1,800 MHz permits for a minimum 37.5 billion baht each flopped. All three companies balked at the costs implied by the previous plan and declined to take part.

Total Access Communication and Advanced Info Service changed their minds after the number of licenses was tripled and the reserve price lowered proportionately.

The acquired spectrum will allow Total Access Communication to maintain second-generation services for a large customer base as well as provide fourth-generation network capacity for “massive growth” in data usage, Chief Executive Officer Lars Norling said in a statement.

There was no bidding war on Sunday, unlike in the auctions in 2015, which led to some of the most expensive airwaves in the world and pressured the finances of carriers.

The telecommunications commission will review bidding conditions for unsold 1,800 MHz and 900 MHz frequencies to make them more attractive for operators, Takorn said. This may include lengthening license payment periods, as the commission would be criticised if it cut reserve prices, he said.

An auction due August 18 for one 900 MHz license was scrapped after the operators said they wouldn’t take part. The agency is also making preparations to sell airwaves, possibly by 2020, for fifth-generation services.

“If Thailand is late in adopting 5G, the nation will lose a lot in opportunity cost,” Takorn said at a briefing in Bangkok.