Spectrum Reduced 3G Auction for October

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has set 15-20 October as the auction dates for 3G licences, as reported here.

Significantly, the spectrum cap for the auction has been reduced from 20 MHz to 15 MHz per operator, with a total of 45 MHz to be auctioned. With only three familiar bidders – AIS, DTAC and TRUE – the results of the auction now seem certain.

The NBTC has been criticised for the auction spectrum reduction on the grounds that it will effectively remove the incentive for competitive bidding (the spectrum can now be expected to sell for the reserve price of $143 million (Baht 4.5 billion) per 5-MHz slot), which will in turn reduce the revenue for the state that could have been derived from the auction. Also, it has been argued that with only 3 bidders, 45 MHz available for auction and a 15 MHz limit per operator, collusion among the bidders will be encouraged, as reported here by the Nation and here by telecomasia.net

NBTC has justified the spectrum cap reduction by in effect saying that 3G services operated by the troika of incumbent Thai telecoms – AIS, DTAC and TRUE – would serve the public better than operation by a duopoly of just the two bigger players (AIS and DTAC), as in a competitively bid 3G auction, TRUE is expected to be outbid by AIS and DTAC.

However, not all NBTC panelists were in agreement. Doctor Pravit Leesathapornwongsa voted against, and said that reducing the spectrum cap without increasing the reserve price would mean the government losing around $555 million (Baht 17.4 billion) for all 45-MHz, according to the economic models that the NBTC has commissioned. Panel member Supinya Klangnarong not only voted against, but has been tweeting against the board's decision, to the ire of some other panelists, as reported here.

However, for most Thai consumers, issues of price collusion and auction irregularities are likely to pale if functioning 3G services are actually delivered after years of delay.