Regulations are at the heart of doing telco business. Each country has the specific telecom regulatory body to regulate and manage the use of spectrum, namely FCC of the US, Ofcom of the UK, IMDA of Singapore and KCC of Korea. Thailand’s spectrum management is under the duties and responsibilities of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC), which has evolved from the Telegraph Department in the reign of King Rama V.
More than 130 years of Thailand’s telecom industry development, it was full of happiness, tears and dramatic emotion. 2018 will be marked as another year of “major transition” for telecom industry since it will be the last year of the CAT and dtac concession, a replica of monopoly period. And especially for dtac,there are a number of missions that need to be done by this year, which include end of concession, 2G shutdown, access to additional spectrum either through the partnership with TOT on 2300MHz spectrum or winning the spectrum license from the auction and moving forward to 5G era.
Narupon Rattanasanaharn, Head of Regulatory, said: “Since the national telegraph department was established in 1886 to the current NBTC, what always happened through the history was “uncertainty”, as the matter involved with private and public interests that is worth more than a trillion baht presently.
The regulator plays a major role in navigating directions of the industry, issuing the regulations to promote the free and fair completion while having to maintain the balance on the consumer benefits at the other end, but in contrary too often creating a ripple effect across the ecosystem with the unfavorable new regulation. One of the key duties of the regulator is to maximize the use of spectrum, a sort of scarce national resource defined in the constitution.
“My job is to deal with uncertainty, trying to make it less unpredictable. A vanguard that needs to cope with internal and external stakeholders by negotiating, discussing, and arguing for the matters related to regulatory affairs. Hence, our function is mainly to support or enable the company do business competitively and seamlessly,” Mr.Narupon explained.
To build a smooth business operation, regulatory tasks can be divided into 2 parts – regulatory strategy and regulatory compliance. We look for the way to make a balancing perspective among consumer protection, regulation enforcement and business operation purposes with fair competition by convincing and feeding information to educate the regulator on the best practices. This part is trying to shape the direction of the industry that reflects our business ambitions. The latter part is regulatory compliance , which most of the time is very challenging to comply with the rules and run a smooth and profitable business at the same time.My job is to advocate
Beyond the hardship of coping with all those regulations and rules, advocacy is another critical part of regulatory affairs job to convince and get engagement from stakeholders, any ones who can influence the decisions directly or indirectly which will have the impact on the company, such as policymakers, operators, employees and societies.
Mr.Narupon pointed out that the most challenging of regulatory affairs for Thailand is how to modernize all out of date regulations to keep pace with fast-changing technological advancement, such as technological convergence between telecom and broadcasting, the development of digital services and the coming 5G and Internet of Things era. However, changing is a Pandora’s box. It requires consensus from the government, DEl Ministry, NBTC,NGOs, operators and so on. That’s why advocacy is his integral task, pointing out what was going wrong and what can be developed.
Obviously, dtac always called on the needs of the national spectrum roadmap, allowing operators to efficiently plan for the future investment. Ultimately, the blueprint will maximize the use spectrum, benefiting people, society and the country. But it has not happened up to now.
Spectrum: do-or-die mission
Securing a new band of spectrum is dtac’s do-or-die affair, which drives Mr.Narupon and his team to design a set of strategic plans by whatever it takes. Auction is mean of securing spectrum, which fundamentally requires the national spectrum roadmap as mentioned earlier. dtac once proposed the early auction scheme to deal with the end of concession in Sept 15 this year. It is the internationally accepted practice to support the smooth transition before the spectrum license expires.
The other dtac’s do-or-mission affair is dealing with the concession expiration, which various activities would follow. First, submission of mandatory customer’s remedy plan to NBTC. Second, we need to settle with CAT on the rental of BTO network assets. Third, the most important mission is to secure the spectrum.
“If we do not own sufficient resources of spectrum to serve our customers. It’s like we’ll have only 3 lanes of highways for more than 20 million cars in Sept, down from 10 lanes at the moment,” said Mr.Narupon.
dtac, however, is close to finalizing a deal with the state-owned telecom enterprise, TOT, on securing 2300 MHz frequency band. This will be a game-changer for dtac!
Dated back to over 130-year of Thai telecom industry, we witness that each age of transition is in a faster pace with less time consuming. The transition of landline phone to mobile phone took more than a decade, while feature phone to smartphone took only 3-4 years. Likewise, the evolution of 2G, 3G and 4G took only a couple of years. This means that 5G and IoTs could possibly occur in the next few years, resulting in the role of mobile operator to digital service provider as dtac envisioned previously.
Owing the right platform will be the key success factor to control this whole game. And the rise of 5G is expected to bring tremendous changes into the industry, blurring the line of telecom and broadcasting as well as reshaping the perspective of regulatory affairs.
“The fast-changing technological environment is a major challenge ahead of those newly selected seven NBTC commissioners who will take the control of the trillion baht industry,” stressed Mr.Narupon.
Furthermore, the new board of NBTC should unlock the dead end of insufficient use of spectrum circumstances in line with the government’s initiative, Thailand 4.0.
Technically, the internet speed of 4G is fast enough for human-to-human communication. But the lower speed Thai people is facing is due to insufficient bandwidth of spectrum that NBTC allocated.
The International Telecom Union recommended developing countries should utilize at least 1000 MHz to meet their economic development. NBTC currently allocated only 420 MHz and operators can actually use a combined bandwidth of 320 MHz.
Ironically, three major Thai telecom operators possessed a combined telecom towers of around 60,000 to 70,000, which ranked in the top ten of the world’s most densely installed towers compared to its population.
Spectrum is not only the present issue, but also the next wave of disaster when 5G arises while NBTC still has no spectrum roadmap for 5G. This is shamefully an opportunity cost for Thailand.