CAT won't change plans in South
Employees wear Kevlar, to get more insurance
Photo shows a CDMA base station. In the southern provinces, CAT has to install 27 base stations in Pattani, 19 in Yala and 24 in Narathiwat. Only one base station each in Pattani and Yala has been built and just two in Narathiwat.
CAT Telecom Plc is hopeful that its broadband cellular network in 51 provinces will be completed this year, despite the unabated crisis in the installation area in the deep South.
China's major telecom equipment supplier Huawei Technologies, which is installing Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) 2000 1-x mobile phone base stations for CAT, is scheduled to hand over the complete project to the state agency on January 26.
"The rollout in the three southern provinces [Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat] may be slower when compared to the other provinces. But we believe the whole project will be finished in December and that it will be handed over to us on time," said CAT's CDMA project manager Wichai Deecharoenkul late last week.
According to the installation deal, Huawei will roll out 1,600 CDMA base stations in 51 provinces, of which 577 will be in northern Thailand, 535 in the Northeast and 488 in the South. The company rolled out 800 base stations in the first phase.
In the southern provinces, it has to install 27 base stations in Pattani, 19 in Yala and 24 in Narathiwat. Only one base station each in Pattani and Yala has been built and just two in Narathiwat.
CAT has pinned its hopes on the CDMA network in 51 provinces to be its flagship service, due to the technological capacity to provide quality voice and high-speed data services.
Wichai said Huawei's rollout cost in the three southern provinces was about Bt1 million per base station versus Bt 800,000 per base in the other provinces due to the high risk from the crisis.
"Huawei still has to be responsible for the costs as it has yet to hand over the base stations to us. In some cases, completely installed base stations were burnt down and they had to be rebuilt at its own expense," he said.
CAT's local employees have also suffered from the impact of the violence in the South. One of them said the employees had to be well-equipped with weapons and armour suits
every time they go out to do maintenance jobs.
"It's difficult when sometimes you have to climb up the base stations in a five-kilogram armour suit. We've worked under fear because we didn't know who would attack us. The armour suit can comfort you but it's not that much," a CAT employee said.
"If the fibre-optic line fails to function at night, we would tell the villagers often that we were not in a position to go out and repair it because we would have to wait until the morning," he said.
CAT's president, Phisal Jorpochau-dom, who visited CDMA base station sites last week, said CAT would provide 47 employees in the three southern provinces lighter armour suits and increase their insurance coverage to Bt1 million a person from Bt100,000.
Winai Sukharn, manager of Hat
Yai CDMA operation & maintenance centre, said workers installing CDMA base stations in the areas could not stay overnight at the installation sites for fear of an assault. Sometimes the equipment at the sites were found stolen.
Despite the unstable situation, Pansak Thipsunetr, CAT's customer service director in Yala, refuses to move out of the area till he sees the CDMA project up and running.
And he has a bigger reason than that.
"The three provinces are a part of Thailand. Currently, you can see that just few private companies want to invest here. What will happen if a state agency like us also pulls back?" he asked rhetorically.