Thailand's DTAC to offer 4G coverage, mulls 1800-MHz spectrum bid

BANGKOK, May 17 (Reuters) - Total Access Communications Pcl , Thailand’s third-ranked mobile operator, will offer 4G coverage in the second quarter of this year and is considering a bid in an upcoming spectrum auction, its chief executive said on Thursday.

The board of DTAC, which is 43 percent owned by Norway’s Telenor Group, is yet to decide on participating in the 1800-MHz spectrum auction in August, CEO Lars-Ake Norling told reporters.

DTAC currently holds the spectrum’s licence, which is set to expire in September. It earlier criticized the auction terms, saying it was “out of step” with the industry and created “artificial spectrum scarcity.”

Norling said the partnership with state-owned TOT in the 2300-Mhz spectrum would give it wider and more efficient coverage. For the partnership, DTAC has to pay TOT 4.5 billion baht ($140.27 million) per year until 2025.

DTAC’s 4G service will initially cover at least 37 provinces in Thailand with national coverage by 2019, he said.

Analysts agree saying that DTAC did not have an immediate need to acquire the spectrum given its unfavourable terms.

However, rating agency Fitch said securing the 1800-Mhz spectrum was “crucial” for DTAC because the company had lost market share due to spectrum inferiority.

Norling, who will leave the firm in September, said DTAC would become a strong competitor in the market but declined to comment on whether the mobile operator could surpass its competitor True Corp and take the no. 2 slot.

DTAC saw its subscriber base shrinking 10 percent from a year ago to 21.8 million users at the end of its first quarter.

True had a total subscriber base of 27.6 million users as of March 2018.

DTAC’s shares slipped 1.7 percent against the broader market’s gain of 0.03 percent. ($1 = 32.0800 baht) (Reporting Wirat Buranakanokthanasan, writing by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)