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Pricey Thai mobile licenses fail to attract bidders

Seven out of nine permits left unsold despite rising data use

Thai teens play a game on their smartphones. Data usage is growing in Thailand as smartphones proliferate.   © Other Provider(90days)

BANGKOK -- Thailand's latest auction of wireless spectrum drew just two bidders for nine available licenses, in what observers say was a misreading of supply and demand for data transmission capacity in the Southeast Asian country.

Wireless market leader Advanced Info Service and third-ranked Total Access Communication were the only participants in the Aug. 19 auction. They won the 1,800 megahertz band licenses for 12.5 billion baht ($379 million) each. The spectrum is mostly for 4G mobile networks.

The auction was originally scheduled for early August with a minimum bid of 37.45 billion baht, but was postponed after all three leading wireless companies declined to participate.

Mobile data usage is rising in Thailand as smartphones grow increasingly common. But major mobile carriers hesitated to bid on the licenses, balking at the lofty prices.

The chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, Sukit Khamasundara, said the regulator did its best but will consider revising terms for future auctions.

In a 2015 auction for spectrum licenses, competing bids from three new and existing carriers pushed prices up. Winners Advanced Info Service and second-ranked player True Corp. remain burdened by heavy payments.

The two carriers later sought to stretch out the payments over a longer period, drawing accusations that they were trying to change the terms of the auction after the fact.

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