Thailand: Tighter weave


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Bangkok residents are in line to get a major boost to their information and communications technology services, with CAT Telecom having firmed up plans to wire the city with a fibre-optic grid that will provide high-speed internet, television and telephone access.

Bangkok has lagged behind some of the country’s other regions in having access to high-speed, fibre-optic internet and telecommunications connections, in part due to the sheer scale of the undertaking required to develop a citywide grid.

This is about to change as in early June CAT announced it was planning to have some 400,000 residences in Bangkok and three adjacent provinces connected to its fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network within three years, with at least 50,000 users expected to be online by the end of 2011.

Subscribers would have access to CAT’s internet service, with packages offering options of 25 MBps or 100 MBps, as well as the choice of signing on for television and phone links, according to Sirote Ratanamahatana, CAT Telecom’s corporate policy manager.

“This is the primary service,” he said of the internet connection, “but if users want the triple-play service they can add television and telephone at an extra cost. This will depend on how our marketing team designs the triple-play or bundled packages.” Those bundled packages would come via CAT’s business partners, which would provide content through the company’s grid, said Sirote.

Though the CAT project has garnered a lot of headlines, it is not the only fibre-optic roll-out taking place in the capital. In mid-March, private service provider FTTH Company (FTTHC) announced that it had signed an agreement with the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA) to lease the latter’s fibre-optic network, which would allow the company to offer full triple-play telecommunications and media services.

Having already conducted field trials using MEA’s network to provide services to some 4000 corporate and residential clients, FTTHC was now ready to open full commercial services for its ultra-broadband internet, telephone and internet television operations, the company’s chief executive, Kobsak Chinawongwatana, told local media when unveiling the project.

Under the agreement, the utility will provide FTTHC with non-exclusive rights to use its nationwide fibre-optic network as well as build further connections as required, which meant that the company could guarantee services to subscribers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Though FTTHC plans to charge a fee well below that of CAT – some $30 a month compared to the larger firm’s basic rate of $46 – its initial speed will be slower than that offered by its rival.

Even before either CAT or FTTHC started weaving fibres in Bangkok, the city of Pattaya to the south-east of the capital was moving to deploy a fibre-optic communications grid of its own. In mid-January, Pattaya’s mayor, Ittiphol Khunpluem, signed a formal memorandum of understanding with CAT to construct an underground fibre-optic network throughout the city centre.

The first stage of the project, with a budget of $21.6m, entails the installation of the base system and a small localised network in the inner city areas and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010. Later stages of the project will connect the outskirts of the city and surrounding districts.

According to Ittiphol, having CAT establish the fibre-optic network in Pattaya was a recognition of the city’s ongoing economic and technological development and the role it plays as a major tourism centre.

Other regional centres, such as Chon Buri, have had access to FTTH services for around two years, though demand has remained relatively light, with service provider Miracle Wave having around only 700 subscribers, a figure the managing director, Tanongsak Padporm, said he hopes will quadruple by the end of 2010.

“We expect to have 3000 customers by the end of this year, while our FTTH network will support up to 10,000 ports. We plan to invest more if the demand increases. By the end of this year, we will also expand our network to offer FTTH services to people in Pattaya as well,” Tanongsak told local media in early June.

Back in Bangkok, CAT concessionaire True Online, the broadband internet subsidiary of communications company True Corp, launched a 50-MBps service on June 30th. It is currently available in several hundred condominiums in Bangkok but will be expanded to over 1000 areas in the capital in the second phase of the roll-out, with access in major provinces coming in the near future as well.

Other service providers might want to study Miracle Wave’s experience. It is one thing to have a substantial network in place, and quite another to have full capacity utilisation. Though CAT is somewhat optimistic, it is unlikely that all of Bangkok’s residential owners will want, let alone be prepared to pay for, high-speed, fibre-optic connections. While it can be expected that pick-up will be strong, it will be a long time before all of Bangkok’s 4m homes will be tied into the fibre web.

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