LVH exclusive - Thailand goes 3G

After a two-year delay due to government suspension of auctions to allow mobile service providers the right to use a 3G network in the Thai Kingdom, the country's three main telecom firms recently bought a total of 9 segments for use with third generation services.

Thailand is one of the biggest consumers of mobile phone technologies in Asia and actually boasts the largest number of Facebook users in the world, which according to stands at almost 12.8 million in Bangkok alone, far higher than London or New York. The move to allow 3G connectivity will mean faster data speeds of over 2 megabits per second for smartphone users, as well as new opportunities for a wide range of businesses to deliver content faster and more effectively to consumers.

Despite some criticism of the auction, most IT firms welcomed the news and heralded the dawn of a new phase in Thailand's digital evolution, with high speed mobile services meaning more options for users to access digital media, online publishing and applications.

The market for smartphones and tablets in Thailand has already outpaced that for PCs and notebooks, so the provision of faster mobile web access beyond wifi enabled zones is likely to be met with hungry demand from both domestic and international users.

Manufacturers also reacted positively to the prospect of a faster network, and expect demand for 3G ready devices to rise by up to 30%. According to Reuters news agency, share prices in all three of Thailand's biggest telecoms operators rose significantly when the successful bids were announced, and although the terms of the purchase only require up to 50% coverage of the total population within the first two years, experts predict the service will be rolled out much faster to meet high demand for 3G nationwide.

The technology behind 3G is heavily geared towards online multimedia services, such as video web browsing, conferencing and music downloads. Higher bandwidth will also allow users to pay their bills, make restaurant reservations, update their social network status and check emails on the move. In order to make use of all these benefits, however, customers have to purchase 3G-compatible handsets, which are generally more expensive than their 2G counterparts and the extra power required to run 3G devices can also lead to shorter usage time between charging.

Most foreign visitors will already have 3G devices, which is likely to mean more travel applications and tourist information being made available to mobile users. The official “Amazing Thailand” mobile application is powered by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and already provides travel information such as destination guides, events and festivals, shopping and Thai food recommendations. The mobile application includes a range of functionalities such as an Augmented Reality (AR) feature that allows travellers to instantly access details and information about the places around them. There's also QR code scanning capability and an interactive map showing routes to a number of popular destinations. Meanwhile, the Search and Filter option lets users find the tourist information that best suit their interests.

Until now, Thailand and Myanmar were the only Southeast Asian countries that did not offer third-generation mobile networks. Thailand's public and private sector organisations hope the launch will help the country keep pace with technological developments elsewhere in the region, where 4G technologies are already being tested and introduced.