When Telenor made its foray into Thailand in 2003 through its investment in dtac, the company’s vision was that every Thai deserves a mobile phone and should be able to afford it. Back then, mobile penetration stood at 22 percent. But by launching market-changing initiatives such as per-second billing and new marketing and distribution models, dtac brought affordable mobile services to the masses.
Fast-forward 20 years and Thailand has mobile penetration of 175%. dtac continues to make digital services available for all – increasingly serving customers through online channels and helping both large enterprise and SMEs adopt the tools they need to thrive in a connected world. But not everyone in Thailand can keep up with rapid and global adoption of new technologies ranging from 5G, to AI and IoT, which could threaten Thailand’s ability to stay ahead as an advanced economy.
Creating new opportunities
On 1 March 2023, dtac successfully merged with True to form a new telecom-tech champion in Thailand, True Corporation (True Corp.). With a combined enterprise value of about USD20 billion, the merger is the largest in the telco industry in Southeast Asia. The objective is to create a new telecom-tech champion that could enable economic growth in Thailand, driven by digital transformation.
Sigve Brekke, CEO and President of Telenor Group, expresses his enthusiasm for the merger and the opportunities it will create for customers and employees: "This merger is a significant milestone for Thailand’s telco industry and for Telenor as a company. We are excited to join forces with CP Group. Our combined resources, infrastructure, and expertise will allow us to provide innovative and efficient services to people across Thailand and play a key role in accelerating the digitalisation of the country."
True Corp. will serve an estimated 60 million customers across mobile, broadband and TV services. Telenor and CP Group will be equal owners with equal representation on the company’s board of directors. Telenor representatives include Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup (Deputy Chair), Ruza Sabanovic, and Lars Erik Tellmann.
Echoing Brekke, Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup, Executive Vice President and Head of Telenor Asia adds: “We are excited about what opportunities the new company, True Corporation will bring to the workforce. This is an opportunity for all of them to grow in a telecom-tech company that has the scale and resources to accelerate Thailand’s digital transformation journey. Working together, and by bringing the best of both companies together, the team at True Corp will be able to have tremendous positive impact in Thailand.”
Read also: Telenor completes the amalgamation of dtac and True in Thailand
Merger discussions started in 2020
Discussions around the merger have been in the works since 2020. Brekke outlines the shared vision between Telenor and CP Group that led to this merger:
“The telecommunications industry is facing a confluence of new technologies – artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and 5G that can transform our world. We believe bringing dtac and True together will create a strong company that can invest and contribute to future digital and technology development in Thailand. This is an opportunity for Thailand to be propelled into growth 2.0 and put the country in the forefront of regional developments.”
Digital adoption is already strong in Thailand, with one in four people saying they are never without their mobile phone, according to Telenor Asia’s Digital Lives Decoded 2022 study. Respondents also pointed to the positive impact of mobile technology on their lives. And the surge in digital use in the country shows no sign of slowing down.
Rostrup adds: “82 percent of people in Thailand expect to significantly increase their mobile use over the coming years, more so than in any other market surveyed. Compared with regional peers, Thais were also among the most enthusiastic for the new income streams, mobile access opens up for them. By combining the strengths of True and dtac, the new company brings together the best of both to create a future-fit, leading telecom tech player at the forefront of digitalisation in Thailand.”
Read also: Historic merger marks new chapter in Malaysia’s digitalisation journey
An epic undertaking
Pulling off a merger of this size requires many people to come together, working across geographies, companies, and functions. The global pandemic did not make things any easier for this merger. Rostrup and Brekke spent a collective 20 weeks in quarantine during their frequent visits to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore while Covid restrictions were still in place. The CelcomDigi merger was concluded just three months earlier, in late November 2022.
To plan for the company’s first day of operations, an integration team of employees from Telenor, dtac, True and CP Group worked tirelessly over 12 months.
"We want to take this opportunity to thank the employees of dtac for the continued hard work, dedication, and loyalty. We recognize the effort to make this merger a reality, and we appreciate every employee's contribution," says Brekke.
Telenor will be an active owner in the new company, bringing its advanced technology and research capabilities, access to global partners, which include hyperscalers and OTT giants, and a continued focus on transparent way of work with responsible business at its core.
“Together with CP Group, we are ready to support True Corp. to fulfil its full potential,” Rostrup emphasises. Talking more about this shared vision, he outlines the four priorities the owners will focus on in the boardroom:
Each party will bring its strengths to help shape True Corp into a company that will bring innovative and advanced services to the people of Thailand.
True Corp will be a strong competitor, so that the Thai market will not lose its competitive edge.
True Corp will support Thai businesses to transform into tech-based companies.
True Corp will have high governance standards, be a great place to work and a true force for good.
New ways to deliver value
Looking at the rapid changes and transformation taking place in Asia, and recognising that next twenty years in the region will look different for Telenor, Telenor Asia was formed in October 2022. This is a continuation of Telenor’s unified Asia business which was established two years earlier. As a regional entity with headquarters in Singapore, Telenor Asia now has complete oversight and responsibility for the company’s operations in the region.
This strategy allows Telenor Asia and its operating companies to make decisions faster and closer to the customer. This enables strong local champions to thrive in their respective markets. In addition to True Corp. in Thailand, Telenor Asia’s operating companies are market leaders in Bangladesh and in Malaysia. The aim is to deliver USD1.2 bn in cashflow from Asia over the next 3 years. And Thailand is one of the most important markets in this portfolio.
“True Corp. is critical part of our regional strategy. Telenor Asia believes in forming strong local champions that can advance their country’s national digital agendas. And I’m confident we are now positioned to accomplish this ambition for the benefit of all our stakeholders,” Rostrup concluded.