The 20-year wait is over. Thailand's first real third-generation mobile broadband service is on the air after mobile leader Advanced Info Service (AIS) made the first 3G commercial launch under the licensing regime Tuesday.
After decades of delay, 3G service on the international standard 2.1-gigahertz frequency has finally come to Bangkok and 20 major provinces on AIS's 3G network of 5,000 base stations.
Third-ranked operator True Move will roll out its full commercial 3G service on the 2.1-GHz frequency Wednesday, and No.2 DTAC will announce its plans Thursday.
The moves mark a significant turning point in Thailand's telecom history, bringing an end to the decades-old concession regime and highlighting what looks to be a permanent shift in the country's mobile landscape.
AIS chief executive Wichian Mektrakarn gave a live 3G demonstration at CentralWorld, speaking with a colleague in Phuket. (Photos by Patipat Janthong)
The country's existing 82 million 2G mobile users with 3G-enabled handsets can now sign up for 3G services on the 2.1-gigahertz band, using the same mobile number.
3G technology allows fast data transfer at a maximum speed of 42 Mbps, about 300 times as fast as the 2G system.
The biggest benefits of 3G are high-definition voice clarity and high-speed internet data transmission.
AIS chief executive Wichian Mektrakarn said the company, through its subsidiary Advanced Wireless Network, spent four months installing 5,000 3G base stations in 20 provinces, giving the network the capacity to handle 10 million users.
Network coverage will rise to 70% of the population by year-end and 90% by mid-2014 under AIS's 70-billion-baht 3G network expansion project - two years ahead of the regulatory deadline.
AIS has set up three carrier frequencies - 900-, 1800- and 2100-MHz - to serve densely populated areas.
"Up to 800,000 of our existing 2G customers have already shifted to 2.1-GHz 3G service," said Mr Wichian.
"We aim to have 15 million customers using our 3G this year."
AIS now has 36 million customers using 2G services on the concession-based frequency.
Mr Wichian acknowledged that not all current tariffs of AIS are in compliance with regulatory requirements, with subscribers offered a choice of a 15% increase in capacity instead of a 15% discount on the tariff as set out by the guidelines for the three largest 3G operators.
Current 2G subscribers on the AIS network are not required to change their mobile number if they wish to upgrade to 3G coverage.
Those who plan to subscribe to 3G on the 2100-MHz frequency will have tariff packages starting at 299 baht, the most economical AIS option now available.