Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) detailed plans to increase the number of slots offered in an upcoming 1.8GHz spectrum auction from three to nine to make the sale more competitive.

Takorn Tantasith, NBTC secretary general, said the regulator believes nine 10MHz blocks will meet the needs of bidders better than the original three-licence plan, Bangkok Post reported.

The change was made after the auction draft underwent a public consultation in December 2017. In addition to 90MHz of spectrum offered in the 1.8GHz band, the auction will include 10MHz in the 850MHz band. The regulator said it plans to hold the auction by May.

Dtac, the country’s third-largest mobile operator with a 25 per cent market share, holds concessions to operate 10MHz in the 850MHz band and 45MHz in the 1.8GHz band. Both concessions with state-owned CAT Telecom expire in September.

Different sizes
Takorn said ten telecoms operators, including the country’s three major mobile operators AIS, True Move and dtac, requested the NBTC design the auction with a variety of spectrum block sizes, the newspaper reported.

In November 2017 the NBTC set the reserve price for the 10MHz block of 850MHz spectrum at THB37.98 billion ($1.19 billion), while the base price for each 30MHz block in the 1.8GHz band was set at THB37.45 billion.

Operators and analysts complained at the time the prices were high compared with international levels.

Both AIS and True are burdened with high debt levels after acquiring costly 4G spectrum in auctions in 2015. True paid THB76.3 billion for 10MHz of 900MHz spectrum and THB39.8 billion for a 15MHz block in the 1.8GHz band, while market leader AIS spent THB75.56 billion on the 900MHz spectrum and THB41 billion on the 1.8GHz airwaves.

Splitting the 1.8GHz spectrum into nine slots gives operators the option to bid for just one or two blocks, making acquiring spectrum in the band more feasible for some operators.

If the NBTC board approves the draft, the reserve price of a 10MHz slot will be set at THB12.4 billion, Bangkok Post said.