How have broadband penetration rates and the telecom sector's contribution to GDP performed since you became Minister of ICT?
ANUDITH: Before I became the Minister of ICT, the broadband penetration in the country was very low, about 12%. Right now, after being Minister for 2 years, the penetration rate in the country has increased up to 50%. So this is quite a success that I think I should be proud of.
In terms of GDP, if you compare 2 years ago with the present, the penetration rate has more than doubled. Every 10% increase in penetration rate is equal to 1.3% of GDP. So telecom contribution to GDP has likely increased more than 2 or 3% over the last 2 years.
What are the main pillars of Thailand’ s new 5-year ICT master plan?
ANUDITH: The concept & direction of Thailand’s National ICT Master Plan 2014-2018, Thailand Information and Communication Technology Policy Framework toward 2020, or ICT-2020, aims to direct the country’ s ICT development in 10 years toward the ultimate goal of driving the country into a smart manner in all major sectors of economic, social, and environmental development. ICT-2020 has mandated the Ministry of ICT draft 2 – 5 year ICT master plans. Concurrently, the 2nd National ICT Master Plan covering, 2006-2013 is ending in September this year, therefore it is time for MICT to draft the new 3rd National ICT Master Plan 2014-2018.
How are operators coping with the transition from 2G to 3G? How is this going to impact the operators ARPU?
ANUDITH: The new frequency license band of 2.1 GHz, allocated in October 2012, has caused AIS, DTAC, and True, to each create subsidiaries and begin the migration from 2G to 3G. True had already launched 3G services on the 850 MHz frequency band with CAT as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). They plan to roll out the new network by focusing more on the 4G/LTE services.
Based on the newly obtained licensing scheme, each of the three operators is required to pay a license fee and USO fee to NBTC of approximately 5.25%, compared to paying the concession fee of 25-30% of annual revenue to CAT and TOT from their 2G network. With these huge cost savings, operators have incentive to encourage their customers to migrate from 2G to 3G.
However, despite the launch of 3G networks, there are still a large number of cost-conscious customers who consider 3G service to be premium and unnecessary, and prefer to keep their 2G handsets. Operators agree that migrating all 2G-only users to 3G/LTE would be a costly exercise. In an unsubsidized, largely prepaid market like Thailand, affordable 2G basic handsets are still popular despite the price decrease in 3G devices. Therefore operators are going to have to keep and maintain their 2G networks.
The analysis from The GSM Association (GSMA) showed that most mobile operators in developing regions still believe that even though 2G connection growth has been slowed, 2G networks are likely to continue to remain an important asset of the wireless communication business for the next couple years. There are also factors like market circumstances, market structure, spectrum resources, and mobile broadband penetration rate that operators need to consider when making the decision about network transition. The European Commission has recently made the decision regarding standardization to ensure that 2G GSM service is able to coexist with HSPA/LTE network deployment, which essentially means that 2G will continue to operate alongside HSPA/LTE.
Regarding the ARPU, all mobile operators with 3G have announced the increase in data ARPU for 3G users. This comes as no surprise considering that operators now try to offer their customers new campaigns and promotions to stimulate mobile data usage, work with their content partners to introduce new content and applications, and connect with the handset vendors to introduce smart phones into the market.
If you compare 2 years ago with the present, the [broadband] penetration rate has more than doubled.
With the growth of smart phones and tablets, as well as the popular social applications such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Line, Whatsapp, and Instagram, mobile data usage on 3G mobile networks has been highly catalyzed, which eventually leads to the increase in data service revenue for mobile operators, even with price per megabyte being controlled by the regulator and lowered by market competition.
What is 'Smart Thailand'?
ANUDITH: Smart Thailand is a program that conforms to the National Information and Communication Technology Policy ICT 2020. There are 3 main components to Smart Thailand.
The first is Smart Network , which is a network infrastructure based on broadband over fiber-optic cable. It has the the goal of expanding the broadband network to cover 80% of the population in the next 3 years, and 95% by 2020. It is also targeting pricing with support for operators. There are provisions made for network sharing to reduce cost redundancy. We expect that the results of this operation can reduce the cost to the public for high-speed internet from around 6% of income to 3% - equal to rates comparable to those of developed countries.
Smart Government promotes services through a network of electronic services and electronic transactions that are important to stimulate the demand for broadband use by the public as well.
Smart Business policies are being put in place to support SMEs to optimize the quality and confidence in electronic transactions. It also incorporates the promotion and development of electronic content and applications and the development of ICT professionals.
Has ITU Telecom World 2013 been a success?
ANUDITH: I think that this event has been very successful because of the attendance. We have 7 or 8 heads of state here and ministerial level representatives from over 90 countries. So this is the floor where we can share our experience and our view. This is the first step for further collaboration in the future.