Thai AIS to invest $326 mn on network expansion

By : |January 23, 2011 0

BANGKOK, THAILAND: Thailand’s top mobile phone operator, Advanced Info Service Pcl (AIS), said it planned to invest 10 billion baht ($326 million) on network expansion this year to benefit from continued growth in the sector.

Cash-rich AIS would spend 7.5 billion on expanding its 2G capacity and the remaining 2.5 billion baht on expanding 3G services on its existing 900 MHz frequency, chief operating officer Mark Chong Chin Kok told a news conference on Monday.

AIS, 21.4 per cent owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, has operated a 3G service on its 900 MHz spectrum using HSPA (high-speed packet access) technology since 2008 but it has limited coverage .

The company planned to install 1,884 base stations for this 3G service in Bangkok and other cities, and would gradually expand the service in the third quarter, he said, adding AIS also planned to launch WiFi wireless broadband services by the second quarter.

The Thai mobile industry is expected to grow 3-5 per cent this year due to strong growth in demand for mobile data, social networks, smart devices and applications, plus continued growth in voice services, Chief Executive Wichain Mektrakarn said.

Looking for alternatives

The company is looking for ways to expand business and upgrade existing networks after a court suspended an auction for new third-generation mobile licences in September.

According to OVUM market research, the value of the Thai mobile market is expected to reach 220 billion baht in 2011, up from 215 billion baht in 2010. Thailand has about 69 million mobile phone subscribers, more than its total population.

The market leader expected its service revenue this year to grow in line with the industry, and data service would continue to be a growth driver, Pornrat Janejarassakul, head of corporate planning and investor relations, told reporters.

"We should grow at least 3-5 per cent this year. Revenue from voice services should be at about 3 per cent and data at about 20 per cent. Voice service is the largest proportion, contributing more than 80 per cent of total revenue," Pornrat said.

AIS, which has 31 million subscribers, has a market share of 53.4 per cent in terms of revenue.

Wichian said AIS was keen to be a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which leases a network from another operator in order to offer services.

It had applied to join with two state-owned firms, TOT Pcl and CAT Telecom Pcl, which would allow it to offer services on new frequencies that are better for roaming, for example.

At the midsession break, AIS shares were down 4.5 per cent at 80 baht, due in part to concerns about a government investigation into the terms of the operating concessions of telecoms operators.

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