Thai Spectrum Re-Auction Progress

After weeks of relative quiet in the #Thai4G Spectrum story today there is interesting news.  Joseph Waring at Mobile World Live gives the details.

Essentially, here is the recap:

  1. The spectrum won by by Jas Mobile in the NBTC 900 MHz auction last December, then forfeited for non-payment, will be re-auctioned by order of the Thai Prime Minister’s Digital Economy Commission.
  2. JAS Mobile has been barred from participating, though they have ben given the privilege of paying the costs of the re-auction.  Not much word from JAS since this transpired.
  3. Thai Operator Dtac has said they are not interested to participate, probably hoping to acquire spectrum at more sensible prices in a couple years.   Maybe by then the Thai government will have published a spectrum roadmap.
  4. True Move has only recently declined to participate in the auction.  After paying THB75Billion for another license this seems the smarter play.  Doubling down on a second license would saddle True with tremendous debt.  And this is serious debt relative to any normal Mobile industry metric.
One such metric is the cost per MHz-POP, in other words, how much did the license cost relative to the amount of a spectrum and the number of possible subscribers?
The price True paid for the other license is comparable to some of the higher western rates, around USD1.6/MHz-POP.  But in Western countries there is another metric, ARPU, or Average monthly Revenue pre Subscriber, which is near USD40 and sometimes higher. Here in Thailand ARPU is closer to USD6.  Another way to look at that is that True’s spectrum debt is 7 times higher than western counterparts.  That level of debt will be very challenging to service, so avoiding this re-auction is a better plan.

So the only auction participant remaining is Ais, Thailand’s largest Mobile Operator.  Ais won no licenses in the 2 earlier auctions, and with their 4G traffic growing in leaps and bounds, they should have their eyes on preventing network congestion.

As with the initial spectrum auctions, questions now turn to the rules governing the process.  What kind of auction can be had with only a single participant?  How firm is the rule that the license price this time must be no less than the price previously bid?  If that rule were to be relaxed, how might the other operators be given another chance to bid?  Since the last auction, has the Thai government learned anything about letters of credit or surety bonds?  Speaking of the government, is anyone checking into which pockets True’s license fee is going?

These are a small sample of questions.  Feel free to suggest more in the comments.

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