When will JAS Mobile Launch 4G Service?

Having won a 900 MHz license Jasmine Mobile (JAS) must now build a mobile network and launch their service. Everyone is asking “When will JAS launch 4G service?”

Of course, JAS wants to launch as quickly as possible. The Finance department is especially keen to begin collecting revenue so that loans can be serviced.  With a THB70 Billion license fee, interest alone is likely around 6 Million/day.  JAS aspires to attract 2 Million subscribers in the 1st year of service. Assuming ARPU of 200 and Churn of 10%, that represents revenue of around 11 Million/day. Put those 2 together and every day Launch is delayed or accelerated costs or benefits JAS 17 Million!  17 Million here and there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.  So there will be tremendous pressure to get the network into service as quickly as possible.

The single most difficult and time-consuming part of building a new network is building new cell towers. This includes choosing site locations, getting necessary permits and zoning, construction, equipment installation, commissioning, and optimization. A deal with TOT or CAT to put JAS equipment into existing site locations could shave 4-6 months off the build interval. The terms of the license only stipulate 50% coverage after 4 years, so JAS can launch service as soon as they determine coverage is acceptable.  A typical build interval for a nationwide service launch can be anywhere from 9 to 15 months or even longer.

What kind of service will JAS launch? The 900 MHz spectrum is for 4G. But it is highly unlikely JAS can launch 4G voice service, meaning Voice over LTE or VoLTE, on the existing 3BB/TTT fiber network. VoLTE is very sophisticated technology and the best Mobile operators in the world have taken years to trial and study and prepare for VoLTE service.  The 3BB fiber backbone may need years of capital investment before it is VoLTE qualtiry.  Besides, 10 MHz is not enough spectrum to offer both Voice and Data service, not until there are many, many more sites on the air.  So JAS might offload 2G voice service to either CAT or TOT  and offer data-only 4G service in their 900 MHz spectrum. JAS might try to launch a voice over WiFi service, or VoWIFI, using 3BB hotspots. But that really requires carrier-grade WiFi which 3BB is unlikely to have.  VoWIFI also would require a National Roaming deal with one of the incumbents to fill in 4G/WiFi coverage gaps.  Also unlikely as the incumbents hate the idea of a 4th competitor and will do nothing to help.

The JAS Marketing department will want the launch date to coincide with some auspicious calendar event such as New Years, Songkran, Loy Kratong, etc. Given the financial pressures to launch there will be strong incentive to do a deal to speed the launch. On the other hand, they will worry that staring service with a poor quality network can ffect people’s perception for years.  JAS will have many difficult discussion about the trade-offs between network quality and financial imperative.  In the near term JAS might try for a summer launch around Mother’s Day, maybe only to internal or “friendly” users. That date would be hugely aggressive.  On the far end Lunar New Year or Songkran.  The actual start of full commercial service probably wil lbe somewhere in between.