Thai state operator could receive Japanese funding

Thailand’s state-owned operator TOT is close to securing financial backing from two major Japanese firms. SoftBank and Sumitomo Group have “essentially committed” to acquiring a stake in TOT in exchange for partially funding the second stage of the operator’s 3G network deployment.

The exact sum that the firms would provide has not been disclosed; nor has the size of the stake that the companies would acquire. TOT’s chief executive Yongyuth Wattanasin has suggested that in light of an acquisition the operator will appraise its assets, including 5,320 3G base stations and spectrum in the 2.1MHz band. Analysts have valued these at around THB30 billion ($1 billion).

The Japanese groups are not the only parties presenting TOT with funding opportunities; the operator could also take backing from local banks or network vendors, as well as the Samart-Loxley consortium that funded the initial 3G rollout.

Alternatively, TOT could form a joint venture with a privately-owned mobile operator – a potentiall appealing option as the state-owned operator is significantly behind its competitors in terms of mobile market share, with 263,000 subscribers at the end of Q1 2013. Its main rivals AIS, DTAC and True Move massively eclipse this figure with 37 million, 27 million and 21.5 million respectively.

TOT began its 3G rollout in March this year, so this could drive subscriber numbers. Yongyuth noted that TOT would decide on a proposal by October.

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