Telecommunications in Thailand
Modern telecommunications in Thailand started in 1875 with the deployment of the first telegraph service. Historically, the development of telecommunication networks in Thailand were in the hands of the public sector. Government organisations have been established to provide telegraph, telephone, radio, and television services, and other government agencies, especially the military, still control a large estate of radio and television spectra. Private telecommunication operators initially acquired concession agreements with state enterprises. For mobile phone services, all the concession has been amended by successive government to last 25 years and will gradually end in 2015. For other services, the concession terms and conditions vary, ranging from one year to fifteen years. Nearly all of the concession are built-own-operate type of contracts or BTO. The private investor has to build all the required facilities and transfer them to the State Owned Enterprises before they can operate or offer services to public.
Liberalisation process took place in the 1990s and 2000s. State enterprises – Telephone Organization of Thailand, Communications Authority of Thailand, and Mass Communication Organization of Thailand – were corporatised in 2003 and 2004. The Constitution of 1997 prompts the institutional changes when it requires that all the spectrum is "National Communication Resource for Public Welfare". The 1997 Constitution further requires the establishment of an independent regulator who shall be authorized to allocate spectrum, monitor and regulate communications in Thailand. In 1998, to comply with the Constitutional mandate, the then Parliament passed the landmark law establishing two independent regulators which are a) the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) and b) the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). The regulatory practice began in Thailand when the NTC was appointed by the King through the complex nomination procedure in 2005. The inception of NTC automatically terminates and transfers all power and authority in telecommunication sector from the Post and Telegraph Department (PTD) to the newly established independent commission. For another sister regulator, NBC had never been realized because of perpetual dispute over nomination process and politicization of the media sector.
In September 2006, the military took over the control from a civilian government and decided to merge the telecommunications and broadcasting regulators into a convergence regulator but the task had not been completed until the muppet civilian government came into power and introduced the new bill. The new law dubbed the Act on Spectrum Allocation Authority, Regulatory & Control over Radio & TV Broadcast and Telecommunications of 2010 (aka NRA Act of 2010), terminates the NTC and creates a new "convergence regulator" to look over both telecommunications and broadcast in Thailand. The new law also requires that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission which was established in 2010 as an independent regulators, must allocate all commercial spectrum license via auction. In 2012, in order to license the 3G spectrum and services, the Telecomm Commission (TC) launched the spectrum auction and resulted in three new licenses for 2.1 GHz to 3 incumbents (AIS, True and DTAC). In 2013, the Broadcast Commission (BC) also auctioned 42 new DTTV licenses. Both auctions altogether earned then the highest record for money given to public sector through auction. Later the record was beaten by another auction by sister agency - Broadcast Commission who launched the DTTV auction in December 2013. The NBTC Act in force then allowed NBTC to keep the proceed of the DTTV auction proceed. But when the Military took over the country, it amended the NBTC Act to require return of auction proceed to public purse.
On May 22, 2014 when coup d'état took place, the military decided that it would scrutinize the regulatory practice for both sectors. The successive government led by General Prayud Chanocha, also himself the leader of the Military Junta, announced when he assumed the Premiership that his government would move Thailand into the "Digital Economy" and would transform the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications into a Digital Economy Ministry. NBTC reform would be a part of the plan. In June 2014, the junta issued two new orders demanding that a) all the proceed from spectrum auction must be returned to public purse and, b) all the Community Radio station must comply with the new Junta Order which requires examination and investigation of compliance before offering program to public (community). The temporary licenses were issued in September 2014 to the complied radio station who need to signed voluntary MoU as a condition precedent to be able to broadcast while awaiting thorough examination and investigation from BC before issuance of the de juré license. The time frame to finish the examination and investigation is not fixed. Of noteworthy is the new community radio license to be issued in the future must be in compliance with the Junta Order which supersedes the Radio and Television Act of 2008.
The mobile network market is dominated by three large operators and has the market penetration rate of 136%. All main mobile operators now utilise GSM/3GPP family technologies including GSM, EDGE, UMTS, and LTE. Thailand has six analogue terrestrial television channels, and 24 commercial digital terrestrial channels began broadcasting in 2014.
There are three fixed-line telephone operators in Thailand: state-owned TOT Public Company Limited, True Corporation, and TT&T. As of Q4 2014, there are 5,687,038 fixed-line subscriptions. The number has been on decline since 2008.
The first fixed-line telephone system was installed in Thailand (Siam) under the Ministry of Defence in 1881, and later its operation was transferred to the Post and Telegraph Department. The Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT) was established in 1954 to take control of the telephone system.
The penetration of telephone remained relatively limited for most of the twentieth century. In 1992, the ratio of telephone lines per population was 3.3 lines per 100 population. In 1991, two private corporations were given concessions to build and operate telephone lines; Telecom-Asia (later renamed True Corporation) for Bangkok Metropolitan Area and Thai Telephone & Telecommunications (TT&T) for the provinces.
As of Q4 2014, there were 97.6 million mobile subscribers in Thailand, which is a penetration rate of 146%. The Thai market is predominantly prepaid with 84,8 million prepaid subscribers. More than 99% of the market share belong to three large operators (including their subsidiaries): Advanced Info Service (AIS) who has a 46.52% market share, DTAC with 28.50% market share, and Truemove with a market share of 24.26%. Other operators include the state enterprises TOT Public Company Limited (TOT) with 0.57% market share, and CAT Telecom with 0.15% market share and Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). 
In 1980s and 1990s, private mobile operators were given concessions from TOT and CAT. TOT and CAT were corporatised in 2002-2003, and Thai telecommunication landscape transitioned towards spectrum allocation by independent regulator. The 2007 constitution and the Act on Organization to Assign Radio Frequency and to Regulate the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Services include the provisions that a national independent regulator is established and frequencies for commercial activities must be allocated via auction. The first successful spectrum auction by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission was organised in 2012, allocating 45 MHz of IMT (2100) frequency band to three mobile phone operators.
|AIS||900||GSM, GPRS, EDGE||42.4
|2100||UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, DC-HSPA+|
|DTAC||850||UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, DC-HSPA+||28.0
|1800||GSM, GPRS, EDGE|
|2100||UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, DC-HSPA+, LTE|
|Truemove||850 (MVNO of CAT)||UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, DC-HSPA+||23.2
|1800||GSM, GPRS, EDGE|
|2100||UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, DC-HSPA+, LTE|
|TOT3G||2100||UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, DC-HSPA+, LTE||0.5
|MY by CAT||850||UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, DC-HSPA+||Not Available|
Fixed-line telephone numbers have nine digits, while mobile numbers have ten digits, both including the trunk prefix "0".
There are 13.96 million radios in use (1997). But there were some cases like in this year (2015), expecting there will be more than 25 million radios are in use as of now.
- Channel 3, operated by BEC World under concession from MCOT
- Channel 5, operated by the Royal Thai Army
- Channel 7, operated by BBTV, under concession from the Army
- Modernine TV (Channel 9), operated by the corporatised state-owned enterprise MCOT
- NBT, operated by the Thai government
- Thai PBS, a statutory public service broadcaster
The transition to digital terrestrial television began in 2014. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission arranged an auction for commercial television licenses in December 2013. The spectrum are allocated to four groups of commercial television services: seven high-definition general licenses, seven standard-definition general licenses, seven news station licenses, and four children-and-family licenses. In addition, spectrum are allocated for 12 national public services channels and 12 regional community channels. The commercial licensees began experimental broadcasts on 1 April 2014.
There are five submarine cables used for communications landing in Thailand. Thailand has cable landing points in Satun, Petchaburi and Chonburi.
- SEA-ME-WE-3, SEA-ME-WE-4 linking South East Asia to the Middle East and Western Europe. SEA-ME-WE 4 was operational since 2006.
- Thailand-Indonesia-Singapore (TIS) operational since December 2003.
- APCN linking Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Taiwan, Korea and Japan. The cable is operational since 1996.
- Thailand-Vietnam-Hong Kong (T-V-H) operational since February 1996.
- Flag Europe-Asia (FEA) operational since mid-1990s.
The Asia-America Gateway (AAG) is under construction and is in service since November 2009.
The Asia Pacific Gateway (APG), a new submarine cable, is under planning stage and is expected to be operational in Q3 2014.
Thaicom is the name of a series of communications satellites operated out of Thailand and the name Thaicom Public Company Limited, which is the company that owns and operates the Thaicom satellite fleet and other telecommunication businesses in Thailand and throughout the Asia-Pacific.
The official name of satellite project known as THAICOM named by His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as a symbol of the linkage between Thailand and modern communications technology.
Thailand-based Shinawatra Computer and Communications Co. Ltd. (now InTouch Group) signed a US$100 million contract with Hughes Space and Communications Company Ltd. in 1991 to launch Thailand's first satellite communications project. The first Thaicom satellite was launched on December 17, 1993. This satellite carried 12 C-band transponders coveting a region from Japan to Singapore. Thaksin Shinawatra sold Shin Corporation, which owns 41% of Thaicom Public Company Limited.
Telecommunications regulatory environment in Thailand
National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC)
The NRA Organization Act of 2010 established the new National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) in December 2010 as a single converged regulator for the telecoms and broadcasting sectors 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 telecom license is for an operator without its own network.
- Type-two telecom license is for an operator with or without its own network but provides services targeting a segment or even several segments of the public.
- Type-three telecom license is for an operator with a network that provides services to the general public.
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 type-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.
The telecoms license fee is composed of three types of fees - permission for license, renewal and an annual fee.
As of June 2013 the NBTC has granted 186 telecoms licensees, listed as follows:
- 144 type-one licensees
- 7 type-two licenses without own network
- 10 type-two licenses with own network
- 25 type-three licenses
- รายงานผลการปฏิบัติงาน กสทช. ประจำปี ๒๕๕๖ [Annual Report on the Operation of the NBTC 2013] (PDF) (in Thai). National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- "From Past to Present" (PDF). TOT Public Company Limited. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- Hossain, Liaquat (1996). "Telecommunications Network Development: Organisational and Societal Challenges for Thailand" (PDF). International Journal of the Computer, the Internet and Management 4 (1). Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- "Thailand's Mobile Market Information Q4 2014" Slideshare
- "Unofficial translation: Act on Organization to Assign Radio Frequency and to Regulate the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Services B.E. 2553 (2010)" (PDF).
- "Advanced Info Service PLC Factsheet" (PDF). AIS. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- "Second Quarter 2014" (PDF). DTAC. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- "Quarterly Bulletin 2Q14" (PDF). True Corporation. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- รายงานประจำปี 2556 [Annual Report 2013] (PDF). TOT Public Company Limited (in Thai). Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- "Digital TV licences fetch B50bn". Bangkok Post. 2013-12-27. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- Kewaleewongsatorn, Saengwit (2014-04-17). "Digital TV: Clearing up mixed signals". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- "National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission". www.nbtc.go.th.
- "Telecommunications Business Act, B.E. 2544 (2001)" www.mict.go.th
- "Foreign Business Act of 1999". Thailand Board of Investment (BOI)
- "Thailand's MVNO market" Yozzo.com