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Thai state firm TOT the 3G winner, AIS linking up.

Bangkok -- Thailand's telecoms sector may be slipping back into an era of state dominance as state-run TOT Plc steals the lead in third-generation mobile services, pushing the top private operator into an alliance with it. Advanced Info Service Pcl (AIS) said it wouldjoin with TOT to launch a 3G service after the courts suspended plans for an auction of 3G licences that would have allowed it to set up its own network.

The auction had promised to transform the $4.7 billion sector, with telecom firms no longer operating under fixed-term concessions granted by state firms, and free to build up their own networks, with foreign entrants perhaps entering the fray.

The process was halted after the courts ruled in favour of TOT and another state firm, CAT Telecom Pcl, which had argued that the current regulator had no authority to offer 3G licences and that their interests would be damaged. AIS, 21 percent owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, now expected to launch 3G services with TOT before the end of 2010, Chief Executive Wichian Mektrakarn told Reuters.

"Basically, our plan is to sell SIM cards for TOT, and another aspect is network roaming, which will enable our clients to use data services that run on TOT networks," Wichian said. AIS, which has more than 30 million mobile subscribers and a market share of 44 percent, has set up two subsidiaries, which are applying to be MVNOs under TOT.

An MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, is a telecoms service provider that leases a network from another operator in order to offer its services. "We should be able to launch services soon. We've been in talks with TOT for a long time. We will probably work out the details with TOT next month, and may come up with when we can offerthe services," Wichian said. AIS had planned earlier this year to join with TOT to launch 3G services in certain parts of the country, but the plan was put on hold because theindustry regulator seemed finally about to hold the long-delayed auction for a new 2.1 GHz frequency.

"Now we don't have the auction, we're going back to the previous plan," Wichian said. TOT received its 1900 MHz spectrum, which is part of the 2.1 GHz spectrum for the 3Gtechnology, several years ago but only launched 3G services on the frequency late last year. With the freezing of the auction -- perhaps for a year,maybe two years -- it has regained the advantage over private operators.

The government approved a budget of 19.9 billion baht ($650 million) for TOT to expand its 3G services on its existing 1900 MHz frequency. It still has to secure the funding for that, without government backing.

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Publication:Flare
Geographic Code:9THAI
Date:Nov 15, 2010
Words:455
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