Thai cellco AIS launched a blitz of new stuff at its annual AIS Vision 2017 event on Monday, including Wave-2 Wi-Fi, 32 x 32 MIMO, LTE+Wi-Fi channel bonding, a narrowband IoT pilot, nanofinance, OTT TV content deals, and a secure encrypted messaging app, among other things.
AIS president Hui Weng Cheong announced a whole slew of technological firsts that the cellco is in the process of rolling out. For starters, AIS and Huawei have successfully tested 32 x 32 MIMO with beamforming on LTE. This allows the telco to increase capacity by 8x with the same number of cell sites. 32 x 32 MIMO has progressed from the labs and is being launched nationwide in areas requiring high density.
AIS’ public Wi-Fi service is now being upgraded to 802.11ac Wave 2. Hui said this “super-Wi-Fi” network can deliver gigabit-level services, although his live test with a crowded room fell somewhat short of Gbps territory, yielding 946 Mbps and 4ms latency on Ookla’s speed test.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Southeast Asia’s fastest public Wi-Fi service,” he said.
One hundred access points have already been upgraded to Wave 2, although support is currently limited to Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge phones.
Hui also launched what he billed as the fastest LTE in Southeast Asia using multipath TCP, which makes use of both LTE and Wi-Fi channels. Phones supporting the technology are currently limited to Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 and above, most of which will require an OTA upgrade to enable MPTCP channel bonding.
Hui also announced a pilot project for narrowband IoT networks, using 50 KHz on the 900-MHz band, in cooperation with Chulalongkorn University. Initial projects include smart parking and smart tracking. Seven hundred sites have been set up in the university and the smart parking system is live at the Faculty of Engineering.
(Going off-script, the presenter streaming the live demo of the technology noted that a tracking device was perfect for her to drop in her boyfriend’s car or bag to make sure he actually goes where he said he would, which got a laugh.)
AIS CEO Somchai Lertsuthiwong said that 2016 was a transition year in which Thailand’s telecoms industry moved from a concession-based system to one that is licensed under the independent regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).
Somchai said that the TOT partnership was one of the most successful and most profitable ones for the government ever. Over the course of the concession, AIS has paid over $8.16 billion (286 billion baht) in revenue share, transferred over $5.31 billion (186 billion baht) in assets to the state – and even today those assets are rented to AIS for further use, giving TOT over $159 million (5.6 billion baht) a year. Somchai praised TOT for being a great partner and asked everyone to give its former concession holder a round of applause.
2016 was a year where over half of AIS’ 41 million subscribers (24 million, to be precise) use data, and data venues outstripped voice revenues for the first time. It was also a year where Ookla’s speedtest.net rated AIS the fastest mobile network in Thailand for the second year in a row.
Somchai spoke of how the telco was now in talks with banks to deliver not microfinance but nanofinance in a way that banks could not contemplate before using AIS’ existing infrastructure. The company also launched a farming training/marketing app to help farmers, an app to help village health volunteers and many other feel-good projects.
The operator’s FTTH offering, AIS Fibre, now has over five million subscribers, and Somchai said that 2017 would see the service’s expansion rate exceed that of the market leader. Unlike other telecoms market sectors that are now saturated, fixed-line will see the highest growth rate (15%) in Thailand in 2017, alongside wearables and IoT.
Much of the growth is in no doubt due to the coup that AIS managed to pull off winning the lucrative HBO and Fox contracts from incumbent rival TrueVisions, along with NBA basketball. For the first time in Thailand, HBO Go Video on Demand will be available and to both AIS mobile subscribers and FTTx customers.
Announcing the content deal, acting chief marketing officer Pratthana Leelapanang also officially launched Google Chromecast (both normal and 4K versions), as well as a special partnership with Microsoft for its Office 365 productivity suite, with much lower latency than before.
Microsoft Thailand country manager Orapong Thieng-Ngern took to the stage to pledge Microsoft’s help for the government’s Thailand 4.0 vision, praised AIS for having the best data network to partner with for Office 365, and announced that the two companies were working on integrated billing so that users can pay for Microsoft products via their operator bill.
Pratthana also announced the launch of AIS Private Messenger with encrypted, secure messaging free for one year for everyone (not just AIS customers) to try out in these security-conscious times.