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CAT, TOT near 3G pact

CAT Telecom and TOT Plc plan to merge their third generation (3G) networks to provide blanket high-speed wireless broadband coverage nationwide through a roaming agreement.

Jirayuth Roongsrithong, CAT’s president, said the two state telecom enterprises are now drafting a memorandum of understanding, with a contract signing expected soon.

However, TOT executives are worried such a 3G roaming agreement could scotch negotiations between TOT and Advanced Info Service (AIS) on a 3G co-base station plan.

Mr Jirayuth said TOT has shown an intention to roam its 3G network on the 1900-megahertz frequency with CAT’s 3G network on the analogue 850-MHz spectrum using the same high-speed packet access plus (HSPA+) gear.

Network roaming would enable the two agencies to provide 3G services at speeds of up to 42 Mbps for faster and more consistent network access.

Mr Jirayuth acknowledged that True Corporation would also reap benefits from a roaming agreement, as CAT reserved 80% of its 3G network capacity to it under its contract conditions.

But he said TOT would likely gain more benefits because the government plans to expand its 3G network to 15 provinces in the first year.

With the acting National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission stalling imports of 3G network equipment, CAT and True are facing further delays to 3G network construction.

CAT plans to install 5,000 HSPA base stations nationwide in the first year, while TOT’s 3G network expansion project requires installation of more base stations than CAT due to the latter’s frequency type.

Suphachai Chearavanont, True’s president and chief executive, said roaming would benefit both CAT and True.

He said True is ready to purchase network capacity to provide 3G HSPA+ or 4G-compatible services.

The subsidiary True Move H, through its 3G operating unit Real Move, is preparing to upgrade its 3G high-speed packet access network on the analogue 850-MHz frequency to 3G HSPA+ technology, enabling it to provide 4G-compatible speeds of up to 80 Mbps.

“The network upgrade will start early next year. Our 4G service will be deployed in cities and other highly populated areas,” said Mr Suphachai.

“Thailand could bypass LTE-based 4G for LTE+ technology, as the LTE standard has not yet matured.”

However, a TOT executive who asked not to be named said the roaming project could face a hurdle in that it would cause negotiations between TOT and AIS on a co-network installation project to collapse.

TOT is in talks with AIS for joint construction of about 2,000 base stations to accelerate its network expansion project at a reduced cost.

A co-site with AIS is needed because the state enterprise’s 3G investment budget has been cut from 29 billion baht to only 16 billion.

“This [roaming] could cause problems with the AIS negotiations, as the mobile leader can see the co-site will strengthen True’s 3G capability even further,” said the source.

Another source said a “political group” is attempting to block AIS from becoming a strategic partner with TOT in providing 3G services on behalf of the latter.

TOT president Arnon Tubtiang said his company’s board will tomorrow consider the issue of restructuring 3G operations under a new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) model.

The Boston Consulting Group has been hired to conduct a marketing feasibility study for TOT.

An MVNO is a mobile operator that does not own its own spectrum and usually does not have its own network infrastructure.

TOT has a shortlist of seven potential firms, out of 21 licensees, to provide 3G services on behalf of TOT under an MVNO model, said Mr Arnon.

The state enterprise needs only two strategic partner for an MVNO, who will work closely with TOT in network expansion, marketing and other activities.

Another five or six conventional MVNOs will be finalised to provide services with their own billing system.

Source: Bangkok Post

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