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Thai auctions face further delays following ICT Ministry’s advice

Thailand’s 4G auctions could face yet another delay following recommendations from the country’s ICT Minister as well as the head of CAT Telecom.

ICT Minister Pornchai Rujiprapa and CAT acting chief executive Sampachai Huvanandana agreed that the regulator NBTC needs an additional few months to map out its auction strategy. Currently scheduled for the end of the year, this recommendation could see the process pushed back into 2016.

Both Pornchai and Sampachai argue that the regulator needs more time to establish how 1.8GHz spectrum will be allocated. The process is complicated by the uncertainty over how much spectrum is available – currently, the NBTC is considering an offer made by the operator dtac to return 5MHz of unused spectrum in this frequency.

The regulator previously rejected a similar offer, and is arguing that it should not be required to grant special conditions to dtac, nor pay the operator any compensation. Pornchai has expressed his belief that the NBTC should compensate dtac for returning the spectrum, while acknowledging that its ability to do so is limited by the current Frequency Allocation Act.

This may change following the completion of the new NBTC bill, which will increase the regulator’s authority over spectrum allocation by allowing it to reclaim unused frequencies and repurpose them for greater efficiency. The bill is currently being drafted, and the auctions may be delayed to allow the bill to pass.

Due to the high likelihood of dtac’s 5MHz of spectrum being included in the auctions, the NBTC is adjusting the reserve price of 1.8GHz spectrum. Currently 2 blocks of 12.5MHz spectrum in this band are scheduled for sale in November; if the additional 5MHz are included it would increase the available amount to 30MHz, which could then be sold in 2 blocks of 15MHz for more efficient allocation.

In addition, spectrum in the 900MHz band will be auctioned in December, with 2 blocks of 10MHz available.

Sampachai noted that delaying the auctions by a few months wouldn’t have a serious impact on the market. The 4G bidding has already slipped back by over a year since a military coup took power in 2014.

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