Thais hope to seal 3G deal with HTIL

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2006, 12:00am

Communications Authority of Thailand Telecom (CAT Telecom) is hoping to conclude a deal soon with Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd (HTIL) that would see them launch 3G services throughout Thailand early next year.

A Thai source close to the talks said the tie-up could secure first-mover advantage if they were able to reach a deal before January, as Thailand's current political quagmire was likely to stall any further 3G licensing decision until early next year.

CAT Telecom is also expecting full completion of its CDMA 2000 1x network in 51 provinces by January, clearing the way for introduction of high-speed data services across Thailand's 76 provinces.

'While we are keeping our options open [to other foreign operators too], we hope our negotiations with Hutchison will go through. It would be the best for both of us,' the source said.

Loss-making Hutchison CAT Wireless Multimedia is a marketing joint venture between state-owned CAT Telecom and HTIL that sells CDMA2000 1x mobile service in 25 central provinces, including Bangkok. The CDMA network is owned by another Hutchison unit and CAT Telecom and HTIL share revenue from the business.

HTIL has operations in seven markets, including Thailand, of which only India and Israel were profitable last year.

Negotiations with CAT Telecom have been continuing for a year and there have been reports that the talks have been difficult.

HTIL management has been tight-lipped on progress. Chief executive Dennis Lui Pok-man last week would say only that they had considered all options including a pull-out.

Yesterday, the source said several foreign firms and Thai operators had approached CAT Telecom interested in a tie-up to provide 3G service to the 51 provinces. While a co-operative deal was possible, the source said CAT Telecom and Hutchison were focused on trying to reach agreement on continual co-operation exclusively.

'Over the longer term, we want one company to do it all - both owning the network and marketing the service. If we can do that, CAT could bundle its international telecoms services to make pricing more competitive,' the source said. 'By next year, [demand] for 3G would pick up worldwide'.

Thai Mobile is the only other operator with a 3G licence but it, too, is seeking a partner to help launch the service.


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