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January 29, 2009

Thailand to issue new 3G licences in Q3 2009
Thailand's telecoms regulator said on Wednesday it expected to issue new licences for third-generation mobile services by the third quarter of 2009, seen as a key step in reforming the sector.

Operators are expected to begin commercial operations of the 3G services on a new 2.1 GHz spectrum by the first quarter of 2010, Settaporn Kusripitak, one of the seven members of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters.

Auction would be the best way to issue the licences, probably to four operators, Settaporn said.

"On February 5, we will decide whether there will be an auction. For frequency allocation, the NTC should be able to issue new licences by the third quarter," he said.

Licensing is seen as a key step in reforming the sector because companies will pay licence fees instead of paying a portion of their revenue to state-owned firms for the right to operate networks they built and paid for, as they do now.

The 3G services, which allow users to download data, sound and movies and surf the Internet at much faster speed than the current system, is seen as a key earnings driver for operators.

Analysts said the new 3G licences would also help reduce regulatory costs for operators.

Thai telecoms operators are competing to deploy new technologies, including 3G on existing networks, to extract new revenue from a nearly saturated sector.

Top mobile phone operator, Advanced Info Service, said its 2009 percentage revenue growth would only be in single digits due to fierce competition.

The overall mobile sector was expected to grow only four percent this year as the industry was reaching saturation, senior company executive Prattana Leelapanag told Reuters.

Seventeen analysts polled by Reuters Estimates forecast a 0.3 percent fall on AIS's 2009 revenue as consumers were expected to spend less on mobile phones in a slowing economy.

AIS competes with second-ranked Total Access Communication Plc and number three True Move, a subsidiary of True Corp.

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