Interview: Jon Eddy Abdullah

What are the prospects for the launch of a 4G network in Thailand and what impact will it have?

JON EDDY ABDULLAH: The launch of 3G mobile broadband in Thailand has had a phenomenal impact on the country. Mobile operators are now functioning in a more complex market, where the priority has shifted to becoming a mobile internet company. Smartphones in particular have driven this change; operators have to contend with the massive data demand stemming from users having access to multimedia capabilities, sharing information and enjoying entertainment through their mobile devices. This trend has subsequently driven demand for faster mobile broadband options and more reliable data services in Thailand. The country is ready for the roll-out of 4G services, which can provide data speeds 10 times faster than existing 3G networks. The crucial point is that Thailand must be swift to introduce the 4G network, or it risks falling behind regional standards. In this regard, we see the potential September 2014 4G auction as a very positive step for the country. Yet, any auction is likely to be quite technical, as it will require the amalgamation of different band spectrums in order to make it attractive for both domestic and foreign companies. Most domestic mobile operators have already invested heavily in 4G capacity on their networks. For DTAC, we have close to 15,700 base stations across the country, more than 5000 of which are 3G enabled, while 1m of our customers already have 4G-enabled devices. When required, the technology and equipment we have will allow us to switch each base station to 4G in about 15 minutes.

What is the outlook for the unused portion of DTAC’s 1800-MHz spectrum?

ABDULLAH: DTAC currently has 50 MHz of a 1800-MHz spectrum under a concession agreed with the state telecoms operator, the Communication Authority of Thailand (CAT), which will expire in 2018. We are currently using 25 MHz of this spectrum, so there is scope for either employing the unused portion as part of our 4G network or releasing this section of the spectrum back to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission for auction in 2014.

However, allocating this 25 MHz of spectrum to the auction would be the best option for the telecoms sector and the country. We estimate the value of this unused frequency to be in the vicinity of BT22bn ($719.4m), so the potential benefits to Thailand would be significant under any auction. If an agreement is not reached, this frequency will go unused until the concession with CAT expires in 2018.

How can mobile operators stimulate economic development in Thailand’s provincial regions?

ABDULLAH: The roll-out of 3G bandwidth on the 2100-MHz frequency has been a huge boon for mobile data users in Thailand, with around 20% of handsets in the country supporting this frequency.

Yet, there is still significant work to be done in making mobile data more accessible outside of major urban areas. Data use in the north of Thailand, for example, is significantly lower than the national average. Yet, with growing numbers of tourists visiting the region, coupled with a burgeoning meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions industry, and expanding cross border trade stimulated by agricultural and locally made products, the region requires better access to mobile data services to encourage this economic development. To that end, a number of operators are looking to expand their coverage in the region, as there is such tremendous potential for growth. DTAC has expanded its TriNet service – covering the 850-MHz, 1800-MHz, and 2100-MHz spectra – across the north of the country. We are doing this through bundled packages with affordable smart phones, as the smartphone market in this area is also underserved. Migrating consumers from 2G to 3G will create economic opportunities in the region by opening up channels of communication and commerce.