Last week, Dtac surprised the industry when Thailand’s most popular messaging app Line announced it was launching Line Mobile on the Dtac network. But Dtac got a surprise of its own when the NBTC (National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission) said the arrangement was illegal to the point that Dtac could lose its mobile license over it.
One point of contention is that Line does not have an MVNO license. Dtac and LINE were both summoned to the NBTC to explain themselves. Dtac gave evidence, though Line representatives deferred until next week.
NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tantasit said that Line Mobile has not yet applied for an MVNO license, although he added that if Line Mobile were a value-added service on Dtac, then they might not need a license.
However, NBTC deputy Director-General Korkit Danchaivichit noted that Line’s advertised method of registration via the internet (i.e. a selfie of the customer and his/her ID card) was illegal, as all SIMs needed to be registered in person with an ID card to prevent fraud and crime.
Korkit added that this alone was grounds for revoking Dtac’s mobile license altogether, saying Dtac implicitly acknowledged Line’s illegal registration system.
Ever since the first 2.1 GHz licenses were issued in 2012, license holders have been required to put aside 10% of their spectrum for MVNOs. Only state telcos CAT Telecom and TOT have launched MVNOs, and apart from TrueMove (an MVNO on CAT, albeit on a network CAT sub-contracted to TrueMove), none of the MVNOs have had any success. This is partially due to double taxation (on both the MNO and MVNO) and, in the case of TOT, one-year MVNO contracts that made long-term business plans impossible.
For contrast, it’s worth noting that Line launched an MVNO service last September in Japan – a market with around 200 MVNOs. And it’s a booming market. According to Digitimes Research – citing numbers from Japan’s MM Research Institute – there were 55.62 million MVNO subscribers in Japan in September 2016, up 52.7% year on year. That number was expected to grow substantially even before the Japanese government eased rules at the start of this year allowing SIMs to be unlocked from handsets.