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Thailand to give free mobile data for those homebound by coronavirus

(This March 31 story corrects to say DTAC may speed up deployment of capex, but maintained, not increased guidance on the amount it will spend, in paragraph 10)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will give the public free mobile data as companies initiate work-from-home policies and schools use remote learning amid the coronavirus outbreak, a senior government official said on Tuesday as operators considered investment to expand capacity.

“Individuals can register for 10 gigabytes (GB) of mobile data each month starting April 10,” said Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission. The commission would compensate the operators, a spokesman said separately, but no details were available.

Thailand’s main three mobile operators did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“The government is giving the data so the public can stay home and limit the spread of COVID,” Takorn said referring to the name of the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Thailand on Tuesday reported 127 new coronavirus cases, bringing the national tally up to 1,651 since the country’s first case was reported in January.

There have been 10 deaths.

Third-ranked mobile operator, Total Access Communication Pcl (DTAC) said it was considering accelerating investment to expand its mobile data footprint based on new patterns of usage.

In the past, data use has usually increased in areas with dense populations, but the current increase is widespread, including residential areas outside city centers, DTAC Head of Investor Relations, Sirawit Klabdee told Reuters.

“This is a challenge because (when) increasing capacity in areas outside the city ... there are uncertainties like the duration of the heightened data use,” he said.

The company may consider speeding up deployment of capital expenditure this year, but it maintained its previous guidance on the amount it would spend of 13 billion baht to 15 billion baht ($395 million to $457 million), he said.

The government declared a state of emergency last week and urged companies to adopt work from home policies to limit movement of people.

Top mobile operator, Advanced Info Service Pcl has seen mobile data and broadband volume growth of over 10% in the last month, chief consumer business officer Pratthana Leelapanang, told Reuters.

Video conferencing grew more than ten times, partly due to the increase in remote learning because of the closure of schools and universities, he said.

Rival operator, True Corporation Pcl said last week it would triple its broadband capacity after seeing a 52% increase in broadband use and 18.4% jump in mobile data usage in the last month.

Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Orathai Sriring and Panarat Thepgumpanat, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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