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Norwegian telecom chief says spectrum shortage a problem

Sigve Brekke, Telenor's Executive Vice President & Head of Asia Operations, speaks at a press briefing in Bangkok on March 10.

BANGKOK -- As Internet data usage continues to explode in Asia, Norway's state-owned telecom operator Telenor sees that a shortage of spectrum is increasingly becoming a challenge in its six Asian markets -- Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, India and Myanmar.

     "Year 2015 [will be a year in which] the bottom of the pyramid will start to demand for the Internet," Sigve Brekke, head of Telenor's Asian operations, told the press in Bangkok on Tuesday.

     Mobile internet usage is spreading in countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar and at a much faster pace than in Western countries, Brekke added. Telenor's Asian operations generate around 50% of its overall revenue.

     In India, the company which operates under Uninor, has just 5 Mhz of spectrum for its 40 million customers, which is the smallest spectrum in its operating markets. "We have to deal with the very big traffic and this requires innovation," Brekke said.

     In Thailand where the military government has suspended spectrum auctions for fourth generation networks, Brekke is pushing the telecom minister and other government authorities to speed up the schedule.

     The junta postponed the auction by a year from last summer to reassess auction procedures. However, local media reported recently that the auction may not happen this summer as the National Council for Peace and Order, the governing body of the junta since the May 22 2014 coup, had yet to give the green light.

     "We need more access to spectrum as ... data consumption is picking up faster and faster and faster in Thailand," Brekke said.

     The company is also seeking more spectrums in Myanmar where last year it became one of the first two foreign telecom operators in the country. Having launched services in main cities, Telenor's population coverage in the country has reached 25--30%.

     "We need more spectrums, and there is more which the government intends to have processed," he said. "We will have more spectrums in the coming few years." He added that the lack of public infrastructure and electricity could be challenging when setting up base stations in rural areas which are yet to be covered.

     Currently, 15% of its 160 million customers in Asia are Internet users and the company is targeting to increase the number to 80% by 2017.

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