Thailand Should Leapfrog 3G and Move Directly to 4G

With disarray and delay dominating the day in Thailand’s Mobiles businesses it’s time for some out-of-the-box thinking. Various sources report that it could take Thai courts, legislators and regulators 2 years or more to sort out the current uncertainty concerning 3G spectrum.

This additional time must be viewed in the context that the first 3G networks deployed around 10 years ago and 3G has been the global standard for at least 6 or 7 years already. Launching a 3G network now, in 2010, would be a stunningly booring accomplishment that would hardly be noticed by the rest of the world. Such an announcement is likely to be lost among a sea of 4G launches and services. Thailand risks becoming the joke of the world’s media for being so late to the 3G party.

On the other hand, state-of-the-art 4G networks already have launched in Sweden by Telia Sonera. In America, Metro PCS announced the launch of their first 4G LTE network on September 21, 2010 in Las Vegas. Verizon Wireless, the largest mobile operator in America plans to launch 4G within 3 months, before the end of 2010. In the time it takes for Thailand to finally release their 3G spectrum dozens of new 4G networks might already be in service worldwide. Without question 4G is here now and ready now.

Even if Thailand can solve the legal and regulatory issues with the current spectrum plans in less than 2 years it will still require at least 9 months to launch a 4G network with the barest minimum of coverage. A nation-wide deployment will take years to achieve. By that time, many more of the world’s mobile operators will have launched 4G networks and significant numbers of subscribers will be using 4G services. Handsets and terminals will be readily available and applications and services will have been optimized for the higher bandwidths 4G provides.

By skipping 3G completely Thailand can strongly position themselves for growth in a changing world. The billions of Thai Baht 3G will require might just as well be spent on current technology rather than wasted on yesterday’s. Rather than being a laughingstock and a laggard, Thailand can leapfrog to the cutting edge of wireless services and the new industries and business opportunities 4G will enable.

This can be achieve with a single sentence. In whatever form the final allocation of Thai spectrum takes, free the winners of that spectrum to deploy whatever technology makes sense for them. Do not constrain spectrum winners to deploy 3G networks. The operators, Thai and foreign, would then make the best business decision, rather than follow a mandate that was originally relevant years ago when the 3G auctions first were planned. An even stronger mandate to deploy 4G might result in a more efficient allocation of capital, although government mandates often come with inherent risks.

Thailand can turn the current crisis into a creative opportunity by seizing this moment. Thailand can own-goal their way to a last-place finish by mandating 3G. Or Thailand can join the rest of the world with the current best practice of 4G. Let us move with dispatch to the world’s leading edge of mobile technology by using the new spectrum to build 4G networks in Thailand.