Thailand risks losing satellite orbit rights at 50.5° East due to vacancy

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

Thailand’s entitlement to utilise the satellite orbit at 50.5° East may be revoked following its expiration in 2025 due to its prolonged vacancy.

There’s speculation in the industry that the upcoming auctions for the unclaimed orbit slots at 50.5° and 142° E by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) might not be successful. This is due to the expectation that the number of potential bidders will not meet the minimum requirement outlined in the awarding conditions for these slots.

An anonymous source from the NBTC disclosed that Thailand’s right to the 50.5° E orbit slot would cease next year, following an extension period granted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The right to the 142° E slot will lapse in three years.

The NBTC is planning to auction both slots this June, as they went unclaimed in the previous January 2023 auction. The regulator conducted its inaugural auction for the use of satellite orbit slots last year, offering five packages: 50.5° and 51° E; 78.5° E; 119.5° E and 120° E; 126° E; and 142° E.

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Space Tech Innovation, a subsidiary of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET)-listed Thaicom, secured the second package for 380 million baht and the third for 417 million. The National Telecom (NT), a state telecommunications enterprise, won the fourth package for 9.07 million baht. The first and fifth packages remained unsold.

The NBTC board and management are formulating a fresh plan to award the unclaimed slots, to prevent the ITU from cancelling them. The source from the NBTC indicated that the draft includes alternative awarding methods to auctions, such as a beauty contest, revenue-sharing, and direct slot awarding.

Royal Gazette

The draft is set to be proposed for a public hearing and announced in the Royal Gazette shortly. The beauty contest method primarily assesses the readiness and qualifications of potential bidders based on their proposals and the proposed benefits to the state. Bidders may only need to pay the reserve price as a minimum payment to the state.

The revenue-sharing method specifies the exact rate that rights holders would need to pay to the state. The direct awarding method sets specific conditions for awarding the right to particular companies. The NBTC board is likely to favour the auction method for slot rights, stipulating a low reserve price for winning bidders.

An alternative approach involves requiring winning bidders to enter into revenue sharing with the state. The draft stipulates that the bidding must include at least two participants, or the auction must be cancelled, said the source.

“It is likely the number of auction participants will be lower than the conditions require.”

Prasert Jantararuangthong, the Digital Economy and Society Minister, noted that the ministry will discuss with relevant agencies the distribution of rights to use the two unclaimed orbits. He highlighted the challenge of the commercial market due to the remote coverage positions of the two orbits, located in the Caribbean Sea and the Middle East.

Despite this, the responsibility and accountability for awarding the rights fall under the NBTC’s jurisdiction, reported Bangkok Post.

NT is unlikely to bid for the two slots as it is currently implementing a turnaround plan and has not utilised the 126° E orbit slot it secured in the previous auction.

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