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Thailand gears up for growth of satellite-based Internet services

National Telecom completes its basestation for Eutelsat OneWeb in Thailand, while rivals like Thaicom and Thai Aerospace Industries gear up to position themselves in the nascent satellite-based Internet services market.

Gigi Onag

January 16, 2024

5 Min Read
Global satellite Internet abstract illustration
(Source: Andrey Suslov/Alamy Stock Vector)

Thailand's state-backed telco National Telecom (NT) has finished building a basestation that would allow low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite operator Eutelsat OneWeb to roll out its satellite broadband services in the second quarter of this year.

According to The Nation, NT has finished work on the Eutelsat OneWeb ''satellite network portal" site built on a 40,000sqm lot located in Ubon Ratchathani province.

Reports say that the portal – which will be operated by NT – features 14 antenna bases as well as equipment and facilities to provide uplink and downlink connectivity for Eutelsat OneWeb satellites.

NT's managing director, Col Sanphachai Huvanandana, told the news outlet that the construction of the Eutelsat OneWeb basestation was delayed due to the failure to get approval from Thai telecom regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC).

The delay prompted Eutelsat OneWeb to hold off on its satellite broadband Internet services for the ASEAN region for a year, he added.

Sanphachai said Eutelsat OneWeb has launched 428 out of 648 planned satellites into orbit to cover broadband Internet services around the world. The rest of the satellites will be launched this year.

Changing rules

In November last year, the NBTC drew up a draft licensing regime that would require operators wishing to use foreign satellites to offer services to apply for three licenses instead of one.

Related:OneWeb, Eutelsat merge to form integrated GEO-LEO satellite firm

Under the existing licensing system, an operator can apply for only a gateway license to operate through a foreign satellite. The gateway licensee must be a Thai company or a joint venture with at least 51% Thai ownership.

The new regime splits the existing system into three categories: gateway licensing, landing rights and service. Operators of foreign satellite services in Thailand will be required to successfully apply for all three licenses in the future. The rule stipulating at least 51% Thai ownership for JVs remains.

Speaking to the Bangkok Post in November, NBTC commissioner AM Thanapant Raicharoen said the new rules will help the telecom sector prepare for the complex ecosystem of global LEO satellite broadband services that are expected to come online in the next few years. He added that the new rules also align with Thailand's space economy development.

The new licensing system is expected to start in early 2024.

Eye on satellite-based services

NT has its eyes on developing new services involving LEO satellites for some time now as part of its business diversification.

Related:Japan's telco operators make steady progress on satellite initiatives

The telco operator, along with satellite service operator Thaicom, successfully secured three satellite orbital slots last year in an auction held by NBTC as the country's satellite industry transitioned from a concession system to a licensing system.

NBTC raised 806.5 million baht (US$23 million) in the auction held in January 2023. Thaicom, through its subsidiary Space Tech Innovation, obtained two packages while NT got one. NT has won the right to operate a satellite orbit at the 126E slot to cover Asia-Pacific and the South China Sea for 9.076 million baht (US$260,000).

Both companies are required to launch their satellites into their orbital slots within three years of receiving the license.

Meanwhile, NT is also helping Thailand retain the right to operate the satellite orbit slot of 119.5E with a bandwidth of 400 Mbit/s, which will later be assigned by the NBTC to an appropriate government agency.

On the other hand, Thaicom has also strengthened its satellite Internet capability in anticipation of robust demand in the years ahead.

Last August, Thaicom teamed up with Eutelsat (which has since merged with OneWeb) to launch a high-throughput geostationary telecoms spacecraft over Asia.

The French fleet operator's Asia subsidiary has agreed to lease half the capacity on the satellite over its lifetime of 16 years from Space Tech Innovation, which is controlled by Thaicom, and is procuring the spacecraft.

Related:As users leak to Starlink, NBN Co weighs future satellite options

The companies plan for the satellite to be delivered in 2027 for a launch to 119.5 degrees East, where it would give the French company around 50 gigabits per second (Gbit/s) in extra capacity over Asia.

A software-defined payload on the satellite would enable the operators to adjust services in response to changing customer demands, the operators said in a news release that offered few other details.

New players in a nascent market

Bangkok-based Thai Aerospace Industries (TAI) last month voiced its intention to dip its toes into providing commercial satellite-based Internet services.

TAI, an aerospace and aviation services company with a strong presence across Southeast Asia, hinted at this plan following the announcement in December of its partnership with Munich-based Rivada Space Networks.

The companies hope to bring connectivity services to the commercial, military and general aviation sectors in Thailand using Rivada's OuterNETTM point-to-point network of 600 low-earth LEO satellites.

"We see this as the key infrastructure for the development of the telecom sector in Thailand and beyond," said Chris Atswalongkorn, CEO of TAI. "The OuterNETTM is a fully interconnected orbital network which effectively serves as a private network in space, capable of routing traffic at gigabit speeds from one satellite to another with no need for a gateway on earth."

"We are very excited to leverage Rivada's next-generation satellite connectivity to expand our services across the defense, aviation and enterprise sectors," he added.

The first satellite launch is set for 2025, with global service starting in 2026. 

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About the Author(s)

Gigi Onag

Senior Editor, APAC, Light Reading

Gigi Onag is Senior Editor, APAC, Light Reading. She has been a technology journalist for more than 15 years, covering various aspects of enterprise IT across Asia Pacific.

She started with regional IT publications under CMP Asia (now Informa), including Asia Computer Weekly, Intelligent Enterprise Asia and Network Computing Asia and Teledotcom Asia. This was followed by stints with Computerworld Hong Kong and sister publications FutureIoT and FutureCIO. She had contributed articles to South China Morning Post, TechTarget and PC Market among others.

She interspersed her career as a technology editor with a brief sojourn into public relations before returning to journalism joining the editorial team of Mix Magazine, a MICE publication and its sister publication Business Traveller Asia Pacific.

Gigi is based in Hong Kong and is keen to delve deeper into the region’s wide wild world of telecoms.

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