* Aims to boost 3G coverage to 100 pct by end-2013
* Huawei, ZTE and Nokia Siemens are 3G suppliers (Adds details)
By Khettiya Jittapong and Pisit Changplayngam
BANGKOK, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Advanced Info Service Pcl (AIS) , Thailand’s largest mobile phone operator, plans to invest 13 billion baht ($435 million) in 2013, mostly on its 3G network to tap the fast-growing data services sector.
AIS, Southeast Asia’s biggest wireless firm by market value, has benefited from strong domestic consumption in Thailand as affordable handsets and low tariffs stimulate demand for mobile air time.
AIS, which received new licences in December to operate 3G services on the new 2.1 GHz spectrum, plans to launch the long-awaited services in April or May, Chief Executive Wichain Mektrakarn told reporters.
“We plan to launch 3G services after the first quarter,” Wichain said, adding that AIS has no policy to use pricing to attract clients.
AIS, partly owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd , aims to boost its 3G coverage in major cities to 50 percent of population in the first half of this year and 100 percent at the end of this year, he said.
Chinese companies Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp and Nokia Siemens Networks are major network suppliers for AIS, he said.
AIS, which has more than 39 million subscribers and a market share of 50 percent, has operated a 3G service on its 900 MHz spectrum using HSPA (high-speed packet access) technology since 2008, but it has limited coverage.
AIS plans to revise its previously estimated three-year 3G investment of 50 billion baht and aims to launch 3G handsets priced below $50 to attract customers.
The value of the Thai telecommunications market is expected to reach 266 billion baht ($8.91 billion) in 2013, of which 214 billion baht will be from mobile services and the remaining 52 billion baht from handsets and devices, AIS Vice Chairman Somprasong Boonyachai said.
The Thai telecommunications industry should continue to grow in 2013 with demand for air time rising 7 percent, mostly from data services, Somprasong said.
Handset sales are expected to rise 15 percent in 2013 with more than 7 million smartphones and more than 1 million smart devices such as tablet PCs, Somprasong said.
Thailand has more than 80 million mobile phone subscribers, more than its total population of 69 million.
Second-ranked Total Access Communication Pcl , controlled by Norway’s Telenor, has said it plans to invest 25 billion baht to expand its 3G network during 2013-2015.
True Corp Pcl said in December it planned to invest 26.5 billion baht in 2013, mostly to expand its mobile, Internet and cable television businesses.
At 0748 GMT, AIS shares were up 0.26 percent while the broad index was 0.12 percent lower. TAC fell 0.3 percent, while True rose nearly 1 percent.
$1 = 29.86 baht Reporting by Khettiya Jittapong; Editing by Matt Driskill