Thailand’s long-awaited 3G auctions look set to suffer another delay after the Thai government said it may first need to renegotiate the country’s existing 2G licenses, reports the Financial Times today. In an interview, Thailand’s finance minister, Korn Chatikavanij, said that it would need to sort existing licenses before it could issue the four new 3G licenses, which were scheduled to go to auction next month. “We have a legacy of different concessions being given by different state agencies to different people on different terms,” he said. “We want to provide a standardisation so that free and fair competition could exist and the private sector could have a greater level of confidence to make the kind of investments we want to see.” The original licenses issued to the country’s three main operators – AIS, DTAC and TrueMove – were granted under previous governments amid rumours of corruption and political influence. As a consequence, they have wide variations in the terms.
Korn admitted that sorting through the existing licensing issue would delay the December auction. “It will be next year, we need a few months of work to do what is necessary,” he said. The further delay – the latest in a long line of setbacks – has infuriated industry-watchers. “The issue is not the old concessions: the country needs to move forward on 3G,” said Sriyan Pietersz, the head of research at JP Morgan in Bangkok. It is estimated that the 3G auctions will net the Thai government around US$1.2 billion in total, though there is still some confusion as to whether the regulator – the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) – has authority to hold the auction, which could cause yet further delay. In separate news, the Bangkok Post reports that the NTC has decided to give the country’s mobile network operators until August next year to launch mobile number portability.