Thai TAC to spend $1.98 bln on 4G expansion, marketing

* Plans 4G nationwide coverage, offers free smartphones, discounts

* Spend 2 bln baht for 2G customers to upgrade handsets

* TAC in talks with AIS on 2G network roaming

BANGKOK, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Thailand’s Total Access Communication Pcl (TAC) plans to invest 70 billion baht ($1.98 billion) over the next three years to expand and better market its 4G network, its chief executive said, in a bid to protect market share.

TAC, Thailand’s second largest telecom operator by subscriber numbers, originally planned to spend the 70 billion baht to obtain new 4G spectrum, but it failed to win a licence in an auction late last year.

The company, controlled by Norway’s Telenor, recently revised its dividend payment policy to not less than 50 percent of net profit from 80 percent to help fund the expansion, Chief Executive Officer Lars Norling told reporters.

TAC also plans to double the number of 4G subscribers to 4.5 million by year end, it said in a statement.

TAC’s focus on 4G expansion comes as it battles leader Advanced Info Service Pcl (AIS), as well as third-ranked True Corp and newcomer Jasmine International for subscribers in one of Southeast Asia’s most competitive, and yet lucrative, telecom markets, analysts said.

Norling said TAC was in talks with AIS on a possible 2G network roaming agreement, but declined to give details.

TAC, which has 25.3 million subscribers, plans to increase 4G bandwidth on 1800MHz spectrum to 20MHz and expand coverage nationwide, enabling it to serve all range of 4G-enabled devices, he added.

TAC also plans to offer free smartphones or up to 75 percent discount on 4G handsets and will spend 2 billion baht to encourage its 2G customers to upgrade their handsets, the company added. ($1 = 35.4400 baht) (Reporting by Khettiya Jittapong; Editing by Miral Fahmy)