Top Thai mobile operators to bid for 3G, no new foreign entrants

BANGKOK, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Subsidiaries of Thailand's topthree mobile phone operators have qualified to join along-awaited auction of third-generation licences next week, butno new foreign entrants will take part, the telecoms regulatorsaid on Tuesday.

Thailand is among the last countries in Asia to auction the2.1 GHz spectrum. Political upheaval and court cases brought bystate telecoms companies have delayed the transition to 3G foryears, periodically hurting the shares of the mobile operators.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission(NBTC) will hold the much-delayed auction on Oct. 16. It is seenas a crucial step in reforming the $7 billion sector, enablingoperators to tap more revenue from fast-growing data services.

Nine slots with 5 MHz bandwidth each will be auctioned andeach winner will be limited to a maximum of 15MHz, with astarting price of 4.5 billion baht ($146 million) per slot.

Market leader Advanced Info Service (AIS) , 21percent owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd ,will bid through wholly owned unit Advanced Wireless Network Co.Ltd.

Second-ranked Total Access Communication ,controlled by Norway's Telenor , sent its unit DTACNetwork Co, while True Corp , which owns True Move, thecountry's third-largest mobile operator, joined the bid via RealFuture Co. Ltd.

Existing 2G contracts expire in 2013 in the case of True,2015 for AIS and 2018 for Total Access.

Their shares have outperformed the market this year onexpectations that 3G services will help them boost revenue fromdata services and reduce regulatory fees, due to drop to 6percent of revenue from 25-30 percent under existing contracts.

Although PC penetration is low in Thailand, with only about20 percent of the population having access, the mobilepenetration rate stands at 111 percent.

Many Thais use their mobile phones to access Facebook, for example. Bangkok has 8.68 million Facebook users,making it the world's top Facebook city, ahead of Jakarta andIstanbul, according to Internet metrics service Socialbakers.

($1 = 30.60 Thai baht)

(Reporting by Manunphattr Dhanananphorn; Writing by KhettiyaJittapong and Orathai Sriring; Editing by Alan Raybould andMuralikumar Anantharaman)

((khettiya.jittapong@thomsonreuters.com)(66 2 648 9728)(ReutersMessaging: khettiya.jittapong.reuters@reuters.net))