Thailand’s MVNO Market 2013

Thailand has become an attractive market for MVNOs

Time to make some sense of the current mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) scene in Thailand. Which MVNOs have already launched – on what network? And who’s next?

History: The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the predecessor to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), granted licences to 17 MVNOs before suspending the issuing process over concerns that MVNOs might not be allowed under the 2010 frequency law.

NBTC set up a subcommittee to study the possible impact of the law on the MVNO business in Thailand.

Article 46 (2) of the frequency law obliges NBTC licence-holders to utilise the spectra on their own. They are prohibited from granting, either in part or in full, spectrum-management rights to other parties. This aspect of the law had raised doubts about whether MVNO businesses are legal.

The national broadcasting and telecom regulator found that the #MVNO business is acceptable under the new frequency allocation law. The law is aimed to prevent other parties taking control of telecom licence holders frequencies. But MVNOs do not control the frequencies; they just provide telecom services on the licence holders frequencies.

Today: Although Thailand was late to adopt MVNOs, the introduction of new 3G services, expired concession and the huge demand for 3G devices and data has made the MVNO scene in Thailand very attractive. Some of the early MVNO pioneers (and Mobile networks operators) have struggled to overcome issues related to being a first-mover while a few has managed to get some good traction.

Today: Although Thailand was late to adopt MVNOs, the introduction of new 3G services, expired concession and the huge demand for 3G devices and data has made the MVNO scene in Thailand very attractive. Some of the early MVNO pioneers (and Mobile networks operators) have struggled to overcome issues related to being a first-mover while a few has managed to get some good traction.

Mobile Statistics Thailand as of 2Q 2013
  • Mobile Penetration: 131.84%
  • Mobile Subscribers: 89,984,861
  • Mobile Growth Rate (%): 3.12%
  • Mobile Market Concentration HHI: 3,185
  • Mobile MOU (Minute/Month/User) Blended: 239
  • Mobile ARPU – Excl. IC. (Thb/Month) blended: 207

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MVNOs launched in Thailand as of 2. September 2013
i-Mobile Plus
MVNO-Thailand-i-mobile-plus
MVNO-Thailand-i-mobile-plus
  • A subsidiary of Samart Corporation.
  • Host Network Operator: TOT.
  • Network: TOT3G 2100 MHz network.
  • Previously, named i-Mobile 3GX.
  • 200,000 active MVNO subscribers end of June 2013.
  • 329,000 subscribers as of September 2013.
IEC 3G
MVNO Thailand IEC3G
MVNO Thailand IEC3G
  • Company: IEC Technology.
  • Host Network Operator: TOT.
  • Network: TOT3G 2100 MHz network.
  • IEC is inviting parties to bid for the MVNO.
  • > 7500 active subscribers as of 1 Sep 2013.
365 Communication
MVNO Thailand 365 Communication
MVNO Thailand 365 Communication
  • Company: 365 Communication.
  • All service migrated to TOT3G As of 10 October 2013
  • Host Network Operator: TOT.
  • 2,000 active subscribers.
  • In talks with CAT Telecom.
Mojo 3G
MVNO Thailand Mojo3G
MVNO Thailand Mojo3G
  • Company: Mojo Mobile Co., Ltd.
  • Mconzult Asia Co.,Ltd & Ludo Group AS
  • Host Network Operator: TOT.
  • Network: TOT3G 2100 MHz network.
  • Roaming on: TOT 1900 MHz nationwide networks.
  • Claimed around 20,000 subscribers in 2012.
iKool 3G
MVNO Thailand iKool3G
MVNO Thailand iKool3G
  • 51% Loxley PCL – 49% Tune Talk Holding.
  • Host Network Operator: TOT.
  • Network: TOT3G 2100 MHz network.
  • Roaming on: AIS against additional fees.
  • Initial target customers: Data and internet customers.
  • New target customers (2013): Tourists, professionals and youth
TrueMove H
MVNO Thailand TrueMove H
MVNO Thailand TrueMove H
  • TrueMove H sub-brand of True Corporation
  • *Host Network Operator: CAT Telecom.
  • Subscribers as of 2Q 2013: 3.9 million.

*Although CAT Telecom has the operating license for the 850MHz frequency band, CAT Telecom has outsourced the network operations to “BFKT” a True Group subsidiary without transferring the spectrum or giving True Group the right to manage the spectrum on CAT’s behalf.

BFKT then builds and operates the 3G network infrastructure and CAT Telecom then leases the equipment from BFKT.

Another of True’s group divisions “RealMove” then buys 80% of the network capacity to resell under the True Move H brand = functioning as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) to CAT Telecom.

BFKT has installed the 3G network equipment using HSPA technology for CAT to wholesale and retail the service. CAT has retailed the service under the My brand with the focus on corporate customers.

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TOT’s MVNO’s
TOT is keen on MVNO partnerships
The state enterprise operator TOT is keen on MVNO partnerships

TOT committed to allocate 100,000 mobile numbers to each MVNO, however with the announcement of ~120,000 combined MVNO subscribers 4 years later this has not been a success for most of the five MVNO’s or TOT.

The five MVNO’s are: i-Mobile Plus, IEC3G, 365 3G, Mojo3G and i-kool.

TOT’s now former board chairman, Udom Puasakul announced in June 2013 that TOT had finalized the details of a new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) contract with Samart Corp. The new contracts for Samart Corp was designed to replace their previous short-term MVNO agreements with TOT which were agreed in 2009 at the launch of its 3G network covering the Bangkok area.

Samart will pay 46% of revenues to TOT under the finalized terms, which allow it to utilize up to 40% of TOT’s recently expanded 3G mobile network. The network reportedly has a capacity to serve 7.2 million customers.

The contract expires in 2025 and will be revised every two years.

During the first year Samart corp is to guarantee a minimum payment to TOT of THB 476 million ($15.34 million) and THB 597 million in the second year.

Samart corp claims to have 200,000 active MVNO subscribers end of June 2013, and is targeting a break-even for the MVNO in 4Q 2013 at 500,000 cumulative subscribers.

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CAT Telecom: A handful of MVNOs

Back in July 2013 Thailand’s other state enterprise network, CAT Telecom announced that a handful of companies had approached CAT Telecom to provide MVNO service.

As regulations and demand increases, combined with Thailand’s two state-run mobile network operators (CAT and TOT) bid to continue operating as network service providers to MVNOs, once their concession revenue disappears, have seen a growth in interest from companies attracted to the Thai MVNO scene.

Central Group as possible MVNO in Thailand
Central Group as MVNO in Thailand
Central Group as MVNO in Thailand

The Central Group activities include department stores, specialty stores, supermarkets, convenience and minimarts chains, hotels, condominiums, and office buildings.

According to Kitisak Sriprasert, CEO at CAT Telecom, Central is planning a MVNO with mobile promotional packages bundled with the group’s customer privileges for its retail and bookstores. The package might also cover the Central credit card and the Robinson 1 Card.

Tesco Lotus as possible MVNO in Thailand
Tesco Lotus MVNO Thailand
Tesco Lotus MVNO Thailand

MVNO is not a new concept for the European part of Tesco Lotus, Tesco Mobile, is one of the most popular and successful retail branded MVNO’s in Europe.

However, Tesco Lotus is a hypermarket chain in Thailand operated by Ek-Chai Distribution System Co., Ltd., and has no prior history of running an MVNO.

M Link as possible MVNO in Thailand
M Link as possible MVNO in Thailand
M Link as possible MVNO in Thailand

M Link Asia Corp PCL wholesales and distributes telecom equipment and mobile phones from suppliers including Motorola and Alcatel. The Company also provide after sale services through its M-Link Service Centers.

In August 2013, Samart Corporation announced they were in talks with M Link Asia to buy into the company in a bid to expand the distribution points for Samart’s MVNO, I-Mobile Plus.

365 Communication moving to CAT Telecom?
365 Communication MVNO in Thailand
365 Communication Is already operating as a MVNO in Thailand

365 Communication is one of the original five Bangkok MVNOs operating under an agreement with the other state-run operator, Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT).

However according to CAT Telecom, 365 Communication plans to provide a service on CAT Telecom for up to 300,000 users, and pay CAT THB 300 million ($10 million) a year under the deal.

GMM Grammy as MVNO
GMM Grammy as MVNO
Local record company GMM Grammy as a MVNO

Thailand’s entertainment company GMM Grammy Plc. announced back in August 2010 that the company planned to invest THB 1 billion (US$32 million) into a MVNO setup in Thailand.

According to Bangkok Post, Grammy has received a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) license from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and has asked TOT Plc to provide 3G service as host MNO.

The company also notified the Stock Exchange of Thailand that Music Copyright Collection Co., Ltd., a 100% owned subsidiary of Grammy had changed its name to Digital Gen Co., Ltd. in addition, the subsidiary had added its business objective to MVNO business (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) in order to obtain a license as a service provider in 3G network.

In GMM Grammy’s 2012 annual report, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Paiboon Damrongchaitham mentions that:

2013 will provide a full-fledged 3G technology for which the Company has plans to develop digital content business to be part of its core business, to grow revenue with over-the-top technology (OTT) through 3G service, which can provide services in both image and sound to consumers through all platforms, namely television, tablet, computer and mobile telephone.

Currently, the service is being developed in cooperation with foreign business partners. Besides, the Company has a plan to provide exclusive services for fan club members through MVNO system. In all, it is expected that the service will generate strong revenue in mid-2013 onwards.”

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Types of Telecom Licenses in Thailand

The Telecommunications Business Act of 2001 laid down the rules for Thailand’s telecommunications industry by requiring telecoms operators to obtain a license from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

The Act classifies telecommunication licenses into three categories.

Type One License: Being a licence granted to the telecommunications business operator who operates without his or her own network for telecommunications services which are deemed appropriate to be fully liberalized. The Commission shall grant a licence once notified by a person who intends to operate such business;

Type Two License: being a licence granted to the telecommunications business operator who operates with or without his or her own network for telecommunications services intended for a limited group of people, or services with no significant impacts on free and fair competition or on public interest and consumers. The Commission shall grant a licence once a person who intends to operate such business has completely fulfilled the standard criteria prescribed in advance in notification of the Commission.

Type Three License: being a licence granted to the telecommunications business operator who operates with his or her own network for telecommunications services intended for general public, or services which may cause a significant impact on free and fair competition or on public interest, or a service which requires special consumer protection. A person who intends to operate such business can commence the operation only after he or she is approved and granted a licence by the Commission.

The 2001 Act was amended in 2006 under the supervision of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to allow foreigners to own a larger holding in a Thai telecommunications business.

In 2001, foreigners were not permitted to apply for type-two or three licenses under Thailand’s Foreign Business Act (FBA). The applicant applying for type two and type three licenses must be organizations where Thai nationals hold at least 75% shares and at least three quarters of the applicant’s firm directors and the person authorized to sign any binding commitments as a representation of the applicant firm must be Thai nationals.

The 2006 amendments repealed all the additional requirements of an applicant of type-two and type-three licenses, stating foreigners can now hold up to 49% in a telecommunications operator of type-two or type-three; no restrictions on the number of their foreign directors’ representation; and the authorized person signing binding commitments as a representation of the applicant firm can be a foreigner.

As of June 2013, the NBTC has granted 186 telecom licenses, as follows:

  • 144 type-one licenses;
  • 7 type-two licenses without own network;
  • 10 type-two licenses with own network;
  • 25 type-three licenses

Recent regulations (2013)

1. IC rate cut to 0.45 baht per minute.

2. NBTC imposed a price ceiling of 0.99 baht (~$0.03) per minute on domestic voice services for operators with Significant Market Power (SMP). NBTC defines SMP as an operator with more than 25% market share.

3. Prepaid validity: Minimum of 30 days extension on top-up and can be accumulated for 365 days.

Although NBTC is supposed to fine 100,000 baht per violation/per day to the operator who limits the expiration date on prepaid, the regulator still allows operators to do this since the operators are forced to pay a mobile numbering fee to maintain inactive prepaid numbers.

NBTC figures show most prepaid subscribers buy 300 baht worth of call value per month. The mobile operators report 200 baht as the average revenue per user per month (ARPU) on prepaid, this suggests prepaid subscribers leave 100 baht on their card each month.

With 72 million prepaid phone users in Thailand, this means the leftover call value, after the validity period ends is 7.2 billion baht per month or 86.4 billion a year.

Author: Allan Rasmussen
Managing director at Yozzo. Allan’s expertise includes the development and execution of growth strategies, market insights, trends and opportunities, new business models and strategies
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