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1 September 2009

Thai mobile operator denies talk with Vodafone on stake sale

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Total Access Communication Plc, Thailand's number two mobile phone operator, on Monday denied market talk that Vodafone was keen to take a stake in it, Reuters reported.

TAC shares rose 7 percent on Thursday and Friday last week on rumours that Vodafone wanted to take a stake or even acquire it as part of its attempt to boost its presence in the Thai market and tap growth opportunities from the upcoming auction of third-generation (3G) mobile licences.

"For our relationship with Vodafone, we are going to cooperate on roaming and business solutions. There's nothing about it being a shareholder," Chief Executive Officer Tore Johnsen told reporters.

TAC is controlled by Norway's Telenor. It has about 30 percent of Thailand's mobile phone market. Bigger rival Advanced Info Service (AIS) has about 50 percent. Johnsen said TAC and Vodafone were working together to launch services, which were expected to be launched soon.

Earlier this year, TAC and Vodafone signed an agreement to share roaming networks, part of a plan by the world's largest mobile group by revenue to strengthen its presence in Asia.

Thailand's telecoms regulator is expected to launch long-awaited auctions for 3G licences for the new 2.1 GHz spectrum later this year or early next year.

Foreign investors would need to form a joint venture with a Thai company to bid for licences. Thai telecoms laws limit foreign holdings in companies in the sector to 49 percent.

To prepare for 3G, TAC has spent 100 million baht ($2.9 million) on trials of mobile highspeed Internet on its existing 850 MHz frequency in limited areas in central Bangkok from September to December, Johnsen said.

Thailand has lagged other Southeast Asian countries in terms of the number of Internet users, providing room for growth.

Only 21 percent of the Thai population use the Internet and the broadband penetration rate was only 2 percent in 2008, a recent survey showed. This compared with about 24 percent for Internet users in Vietnam, 63 percent in Malaysia and 67 percent in Singapore.

The low penetration rate for broadband usage was mainly due to limited coverage of fixed-line networks.


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