The telecom regulator says it will triple the number of bandwidth slots for the planned auction of the 1800-megahertz spectrum to nine blocks to attract bids from more companies.
The revision came after the auction draft underwent a public hearing last December, aimed at encouraging bidding competition, said Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).
“We believe nine slots for the 1800MHz auction will better meet the particular needs of each bidder than the original three-licence scheme,” said Mr Takorn, who is also head of the NBTC panel working on the drafts of the 850- and 1800MHz auctions.
NBTC plans to auction 10MHz of bandwidth on the 850MHz spectrum and 90MHz of bandwidth on the 1800MHz spectrum this year. The original auction drafts were approved by NBTC’s board and underwent a public hearing in December.
The 1800- and 850MHz spectrum ranges are operated by Total Access Communication (DTAC) under a concession of state-owned enterprise CAT Telecom, which will expire on Sept 30 this year.
Mr Takorn agreed that the 1800MHz spectrum auction revisions in question are in accordance with the opinions proposed by telecom operators in the public hearing.
“Ten telecom operators, including the major three mobile operators [AIS, True Move and DTAC], asked the NBTC to design an auction with a variety of spectrum block sizes to meet the different needs of each bidder,” he said.
The amended draft will be submitted to NBTC’s telecom committee for approval next week before being forwarded to the NBTC board for endorsement.
The request of telecom operators is reasonable because by dividing the bandwidth into nine blocks, a variety of spectrum block sizes will be created, resulting in more competition in the bidding, Mr Takorn said.
Mobile operators that won the previous 4G auctions in 2015 are still burdened by the remaining payments on their licences.
Mobile leader Advanced Info Service (AIS) and second-ranked True Move each secured a 4G licence on the 900- and 1800MHz auctions in 2015.
“Some bidders may just need to acquire one or two of the nine slots under the revised condition,” Mr Takorn said.
AIS and True Move recently asked the government to invoke Section 44 to ease their financial strains by extending their 900MHz 4G licence payment terms, which amount to 60 billion baht each, that were originally scheduled for 2019.
The request would extend the last payment date from 2019 to 2023 and require the companies to pay instalments over five years, plus interest. The government has yet to decide whether it will invoke Section 44 to ease the companies’ financial burden.
AIS won its 900MHz licence for 75.65 billion baht, while True Move secured its own for 76.29 billion. Each company already paid two licence payment terms: 8.04 billion baht in 2016 and 4.02 billion in 2017.
DTAC was the only one of the three operators that failed to secure a licence during the 2015 4G auction.
“If there was a single qualified bidder, then the NBTC would only auction three slots [30MHz],” Mr Takorn said. “If there were two qualified bidders, four [40MHz] would be auctioned, and if there were three qualified bidders, six [60MHz] would be auctioned. If there are four or more qualified bidders, then the NBTC would auction all nine slots.”
All other conditions of the planned 1800MHz auction remain unchanged, he said, including the one that states that reserve prices will be based on the winning bids of the 2015 4G auction.
Under the existing auction draft, the bidding reserve price is set at 37.45 billion baht (for 30MHz of bandwidth).
If the amended draft is approved, the reserve price of the 10MHz slot will be reduced to 12.4 billion baht, in accordance with the winning prices of the 2015 4G auction.