TELECOM & INTERNET | Staff Reporter, Thailand

Thailand to switch off its 2G services by October 2019

Operators are looking to make way for 4G and eventually 5G data networks.

Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has approved a proposal by three of the nation’s mobile operators AIS, DTAC and True to shutdown 2G services by the end of October 2019, a report by Fitch Solutions revealed.

The is part of the operators’ efforts to refarm spectrum capacity for more advanced data networks, particularly 4G and eventually for 5G. Although the shutdown is set to incur higher short-term expenses associated with migrating legacy users to new networks through phone subsidies and marketing, it is said to no have marked impact on the operators’ bottom lines.

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“Breakdowns of subscribers by technology type are not reported regularly by the operators but most recent data emerged from AIS noted that 3.2 million of its 40 million mobile customers were on 2G services,” Fitch Solutions noted. “Our estimates suggest that as little as 176,000 2G voice subscriptions were active as of the end of 2018.”

Meanwhile, the report added that a minimal impact to Thailand’s 30,000 machine-to-machine (M2M) connections may be seen as a result of the shutdown. Consequently, regulators have designated the 920-925 MHz spectrum band for unlicensed use and has alloted the 400 MHz band for the utilities segment, which Fitch Solutions said are sufficient provisions to mitigate the impact of the 2G shutdown.

The decommissioning of 2G networks may also accelerate a shift towards LoRaWAN and new generation Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and LTE-M wireless broadband networks whilst reducing reliance on inefficient and power-sensitive GPRS and EDGE networks.

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“The shutdown is a pragmatic response to changing traffic dynamics in Thailand as data usage continues to increase exponentially, reaching as high as 10.5GB per month in Q3 2018,” Fitch Solutions explained. “This has forced operators to acquire or repurpose spectrum toward more advanced 3G and 4G services.”

The report highlighted how in 2018, DTAC increased its net spectrum holdings by 30 MHz through both auction and concessions, whilst AIS acquired 10 MHz of spectrum in an effort to boost its network capacity to sustain the increased data traffic.

The main focus for Thailand’s operators will eventually shift to 5G, with the NBTC announcing it plans to auction 700 MHz spectrum that is set aside for digital TV services in May 2019.

“This wavelength has already been earmarked for the development of 5G networks which are set to be commercialised by 2020,” Fitch Solutions revealed. “AIS and DTAC have not announced their intentions to participate in the auction, but True has stated it will not partake in the proceedings as it aims to refarm its 850 MHz and 900 MHz spectrum for 5G services.”

Thailand is the second country in Southeast Asia to retire its 2G services, after Singapore switched off its legacy network in 2017. This trend is expected to continue, especially amongst more mature telecoms, Fitch Solutions highlighted. 

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