Thailand’s telecom regulator says it is working on unlocking obstacles to support and promote MVNO

Potential MVNO candidates for the Thai market wants to know if there is enough spectrum and correct policies in place before the make their investments.

NBTC says they are working on a roadmap for the 850, 2100 and 2300MHz spectrum currently used by MVNOs, along with measures to unlock obstacles to support and promote sustainable MVNOs. They expect the tasks to be completed within 3 months.

NBTC Board Commissionaire regarding telecommunication business, Mr. Sompop Phuriwikraiphong, said there are 3 frequency bands that will end its service in 2025, namely 850MHz, 2100MHz and 2300MHz which are currently under the state enterprise National Telecom (NT). Therefore, the NBTC must prepare a frequency management plan or roadmap to prepare to allocate spectrum in advance before said spectrum expires. NBTC expect this to be completed within 3 months.

The reason why the NBTC is accelerating the implementation of the roadmap, is because the industrial sector, telecommunications and related parties wants clarification from the NBTC on plans for frequency allocation in Thailand over the next 2-5 years, for use in business planning and investment budgets.

The spectrum roadmap was already delayed under the former NBTC board.

In this regard, the NBTC will propose setting up a working group to work on the task and forecast what the needs are for future demand of spectrum use. There will be a study to look at the readiness of consumers and the financial situation of operators, price of mobile phones and various devices and equipment that may be released, etc.

Mr. Sompop said that with the frequency spectrum that NT has to return in 2025, the NBTC must see how it can be used, or how the private sector could be interested in continuing to use it, because in the past there has been a lot of investment in expanding the network.

Mr. Sompop added that, the important issue and the policy of coming to work for the NBTC is to promote the creation of MVNOs.

But in the past, there has been problems, from high cost of MVNOs purchasing access to spectrum or not getting any access at all from the private operators. The NBTC therefore has to hasten to issue policies to encourage the launch of MVNOs, in order to create an alternative access to telecommunications services.

Therefore, the NBTC is in the process of amending a range of related announcements, such as:

  • The Announcement of mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service 2013,
  • The Announcement of the use of shared basic telecommunications networks for wireless telecommunications networks 2019,
  • The Announcement of the use of services across wireless telecommunications networks within the country 2019,
  • The Announcement of standards for calculating compensation rates for telecommunications network connections 2021,
  • The Announcement of connection compensation rates – telecommunications networks 2021 and,
  • The Announcement on the use and connection of telecommunications networks 2013.

In addition, investment promotion measures like the Board of Investment (BOI) may be issued to create incentives for MVNOs. This is expected to be completed in March 2024.

MVNOs are not Mom & Pop shops

What Mr. Sompop and colleagues also need to update, is their belief that MVNO candidates are Mom & Pop shops, who only provide low cost mobile services.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Mom & Pop shops but a large amount of the candidates, interested in launching MVNO services in Thailand, are both local and regional conglomerates, large enterprise from various verticals, retailers, fintechs, OTTs, existing MVNOs in other nearby countries and even mobile network operators considering launching sub-brands as MVNOs in Thailand.

These MVNO does not compete only on pricing but on innovative services, aimed at specific segments which the Big 2 in Thailand cannot satisfy with their “one-size-fits-all”.

MOBILE OPERATORS are designed for distribution of mass market telecom connectivity services, however in the digital economy this logic has shifted from a supply focus, into a demand driven reality.

CONSUMERS in today’s digital economy require personalized, and innovative telecom services, but the mobile operators continue to deliver one-size fits all connectivity service and offers.

ENTERPRISES are increasingly demanding complete lifecycle services to support their digital business models and transformation, only to be met with standard offers of connectivity from the mobile operators.

MVNOs have utilized the above issues, achieved a competitive edge and captured market shares – by capitalizing on market differentiation and segmentation rather than merely competing on connectivity and price.

Instead of the view of customers as one large, indistinct segment – MVNOs embrace a targeted approach, creating a unique brand positioning and value proposition to attract a defined niche segment, such as specific groups or demographics and tailor their service, offer and products to the needs, value and lifestyle of this customer segment.

No access to spectrum for MVNOs a few months from now

The nine MVNOs, that have been able to launch over time in Thailand – out of 65+ MVNO licenses awarded – have done so on the state-enterprise operators; CAT Telecom and TOT, who has since been merged into one entity named National Telecom (NT).

Today there are only 4-5 MVNOs, more or less alive and a few months from now (Year 2025), The NT will have to give back its spectra (800MHz, 2100MHz and 2300MHz) to the NBTC.

The 2100MHz and 2300MHz of TOT (now NT), is the only spectrum available to MVNOs in the Thai market today.

To make matters worse, NT is not the only one responsible for the mobile network and capacity on the 800MHz, 2100MHz and 2300MHz, as it has entered into quasi MVNO and sharing agreements with the Big 3.

These partnerships are not only giving the Big 3 access to NT’s capacity, it has also given them control and a way to maintain a barrier to possible competition coming from MVNOs via NT, as the big 3 are de facto in charge of setting the price to NT and the MVNOs on these spectra deals.

In example, when a MVNO contacts NT to discuss a wholesale agreement, NT has to inform the Big 3 of this and the Big 3 will provide a wholesale price to NT. However NT also have to make a profit and hence have to add it on top of the wholesale price they obtained from the Big 3.

On top of this, as we all know you cannot provide a wholesale pricing without know the possible amount of subscribers, segment, etc. hence the Big 3 are not only de facto controlling the wholesale price NT can give to MVNOs – they are also fed with information about the upcoming competition.

As such, the Big 3 are in control at all times and the MVNOs will always end up with a higher wholesale price / less margin, as they have to pay two gatekeepers and those costs have to be paid by the end-users = no competition.

700MHz with 5G slicing and 20% capacity for MVNOs

CAT Telecom (now NT), did win a slot of 20MHz on the 700MHz bandwidth, at the auction 3 years ago, and announced this month (yes not the faster scooter in town), that they have been approved to setup a partnership where the network will be rolled out with 5G, 20% capacity to MVNOs, as well as option for 5G slicing to MVNOs and other bling bling.

But before you open your piggy bank and head to the NBTC to apply for a MVNO license, thinking this is the solution for MVNOs – read the below first, as this –  as with other shinny 5G marketing nonsense –  is different in the real world.

NT has entered into a partnership (again) with AIS, one of the Big 2. Through the partnership, AIS will buy part of – and operate NT’s 700MHz spectrum capacity. NT will rent and pay rental fees to AIS’s network and related equipment that NT will use to provide its own service on the remaining 10MHz bandwidth of the spectrum, and this will be 4G but also 5G.

If you read the part on the Big 3 controlling barriers on the existing spectrum at NT today – this setup on 700MHz will be familiar to you by now.

But wait, there is more…

Remember it is only NT who is open to MVNOs thus it is only 10% of the 10MHz that is left to NT which can be used by MVNOs, and now comes another problem.

NT has its own customers, about 2 million of them and with AIS and NT taking up the capacity there is only space left for about 400,000 MVNO subscribers which is not even enough for one MVNO to reach financial break-even in the Thai market.

There is also the “smaller details”, in example that this network it not even built yet, and that there will be a change in the board of NT soon where it is said that many of the board members are leaning towards NT returning the 700MHz as well, as it has no clear business model and the cost running it is to high.

Telco merger approved with MVNO condition but nothing has happened for 230 days

Earlier this year, (March 1st) two of the Big 3, TRUE and DTAC merged into TRUE as part of the merger conditions from the NBTC, the merger had to open a separate business unit and launch MVNOs on their networks, as part of the “merger conditions” from the NBTC

The merger was 231 days ago but no MVNOs have launched on the merger.


Author: Allan Rasmussen
Managing director at Yozzo. Allan is a MVNA/MVNE/MVNO specialist with hands-on experience from more than 60 projects in both competitive and greenfield markets. His expertise includes business case development, execution, launch and growth strategies. Advisor and consultant to mobile network operators, MVNA, MVNE, MVNO, National Regulatory Authorities, Government Agencies, Broadcast Companies, TMT Industry Associations, Innovation and Investment Banks.
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