Subsidiaries of Thailand‘s top three mobile phone operators have qualified to join a long-awaited auction of third-generation licences next week, but no new foreign entrants will take part, the telecoms regulator said on Tuesday.

Thailand is among the last countries in Asia to auction the 2.1 GHz spectrum. Political upheaval and court cases brought by state telecoms companies have delayed the transition to 3G for years, periodically hurting the shares of the mobile operators.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) will hold the much-delayed auction on Oct. 16. It is seen as a crucial step in reforming the $7 billion sector, enabling operators to tap more revenue from fast-growing data services.

Nine slots with 5 MHz bandwidth each will be auctioned and each winner will be limited to a maximum of 15MHz, with a starting price of 4.5 billion baht ($146 million) per slot.

Market leader Advanced Info Service (AIS), 21 percent owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, will bid through wholly owned unit Advanced Wireless Network Co. Ltd.

Second-ranked Total Access Communication, controlled by Norway’s Telenor, sent its unit DTAC Network Co, while True Corp, which owns True Move, the country’s third-largest mobile operator, joined the bid via Real Future Co. Ltd.

Existing 2G contracts expire in 2013 in the case of True, 2015 for AIS and 2018 for Total Access.

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