True gives Thai Police free broadband for Christmas

royal thai police
Credit: BLUR LIFE 1975 / Shutterstock.com

Christmas has come early for Thailand’s police officers: True has announced free broadband, Wi-Fi, phones and calls for police as well as discounts in affiliated convenience stores.

True CEO Supachai Chearavanont and Royal Thai Police commander Chakthip Chaijinda have signed a memorandum of understanding under the military government’s public-private cooperation framework that will result in police stations nationwide being given free Wi-Fi access either via fixed line or 4G.

True, part of the CP conglomerate, also will help police by giving the staff discounts at its CP Freshmart convenience stores and will provide police with an unspecified number of free phones with which to make free calls.

Chaktip even quantified the gift and said that the free connectivity will save the police $832,000 (30 million baht) a year. The MoU is for five years and can be extended.

Ironically, the MoU signing came on the same day that rival Dtac made a major announcement on its anti-corruption drive and no-gift policy.

It is a clever move of True’s part. By making this generous gift that was well received in mainstream media, True has managed to deliver a body blow to its competitors. Why should individual police stations continue to pay incumbent state-telco TOT for something that True is giving them for free? This free gift ultimately will cost TOT, which is wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance, and thus ultimately cost the government.

It also eliminates the chance for any other telco to provide a unified communications solution to the police.

But perhaps there’s more to it than free connectivity. Allan Rasmussen from consultancy Yozzo questioned why police need free connectivity and free calls on True, given that the telecoms regulator recently gifted them free 800-MHz spectrum for 4G.

In June this year, the police received 10 MHz of 850-MHz spectrum for free (alongside a 3.5 billion baht budget) to roll out a public safety network. However, the license was just for five years. This in itself was a case of preempting expectations of the new NBTC bill expected to be passed in early 2017. The current act only allows for spectrum allocation through competitive auction, but the new draft bill allows for allocation by a new Digital Economy Commission for “good causes” – under which a police public safety network would fall.

Five years is coincidentally the exact length as True’s free connectivity gift to the police. It is also a coincidence that TrueMove also runs an unlicensed 850-MHz 4G network. Dtac has parts of an 850 network too, but its concession ends in 2018.

Given these coincidences, could we expect to see an 850-MHz related Police-True announcement in due course? It would make no sense for the police to roll out an 850-MHz network themselves with just five years on their license. Nobody else apart from Dtac could reconfigure existing base stations to use the police spectrum, but again, Dtac’s concession runs out in two years. Thus a partnership with True – if it does happen – would be a win-win situation for everyone … except for the public purse which will be starved of auction revenue. Time will tell.

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