Thailand’s Finance Ministry has announced that it will hire a consultant to study guidelines for converting existing telecoms concessions to level the playing field in the cellular market, reports The Nation newspaper. The government previously indicated that it wanted to convert existing 2G mobile build-transfer-operate (BTO) contracts held by privately-owned cellcos into full licences, in a process which is likely to hold up the country’s already-delayed 2.1GHz 3G concession auction. The ministry’s announcement identified two possible options: converting the concessions into state leases that could then be issued to the present private concession holders; or converting them into shares for state ownership in the private firms. However, the CEO of Thailand’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, Advanced Info Service (AIS), Wichian Mektrakarn, said it was doubtful whether the state-run BTO concession owners – TOT and CAT – and holders – AIS, DTAC and True Move – could easily agree on the most appropriate conversion method and conditions. The BTO licences are due to expire at different times between 2013 and 2017.
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