Thailand’s much anticipated sale of spectrum in the 850MHz and 1.8GHz bands was delayed again and can’t be held until a new National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) board takes over later in the year.

The delay is a huge setback for dtac, the country’s third largest mobile operator, whose concessions with state-owned CAT Telecom to operate 2G services on the 850MHz and 1.8GHz bands expire in September. The acting NBTC board, whose six-year term expired in October 2017, will no longer be able to make policy decisions at the end of this month, Bangkok Post reported.

A new seven-member board could be selected by April, but won’t be able to complete an auction by September, said NBTC board member Prawit Leesathapornwongsa.

An original draft of the planned auctions was approved by the NBTC board and passed a public hearing in December 2017. But a revised plan, calling for the number of slots offered in the 1.8GHz band to be increased from three to nine to make the sale more competitive hasn’t been approved by the acting board as some members disagree with the amendment, the newspaper said.

In September 2017 the NBTC announced plans to conduct the auctions in January 2018, some three months earlier than originally planned to ensure continuity of service for dtac after the concession expires. But in November 2017 it pushed the planned auction date back to May, with the licences scheduled to be awarded by June to give dtac customers a few months to transfer.

Spectrum shortage
Dtac, owned by Norway-based Telenor, didn’t participate in auctions at the end of 2015 which raised THB232.66 billion ($7.4 billion) for the government.

With a total spectrum holding of just 50MHz, dtac needs to acquire new spectrum to replace the 35MHz it loses when the 2G concessions expire. The 15MHz of 2.1GHz spectrum it owns is unlikely to be enough to support the rapid increase in mobile traffic in future.

GSMA Intelligence figures showed the operator had about 450,000 2G connections under its two concessions with CAT at end-December 2017, down from about 1 million at end-2016. It ended 2017 with 22.7 million mobile connections and a 24 per cent market share.