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          Huawei virtual builder of mobile network
           staff writer
           Chinas largest manufacturer of telephone equipment, Huawei Technologies, has virtually guaranteed that it will win the contract to build CAT Telecoms mobile phone network in Thailand by offering to do the work for a spectacularly low price.
          
           The prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was on hand yesterday to officiate at the electronic auction, which promises to be the first of several for various large-scale projects.
          
           The reference price for bidding on the project was 13.4 billion baht, and Huawei came in at 46 percent lower than that, at a mere 7.2 billion baht.
          
           Huaweis nearest rival was Motorola (Thailand), which offered to build the system for 7.78 billion baht. Third was Ericsson of Sweden, which tendered at 7.89 billion baht.
          
           I didnt think that the price would go so low, Thaksin said at a press conference following the bidding. Its good for us.
          
           Thaksin said the country would use this method of e-auction as a bidding guideline when it comes to inviting private investors to bid in other state projects, including the planned extension to the Bang Sue-Ratchaburana subway network with an estimated investment cost of almost 40 billion baht.
          
           Although Huawei has clearly won the bidding, a formal announcement of the winner must wait until Thursday. Contracts will be signed early next month, said Anusorn Teptada, chairman of CAT Telecom.
          
           Huawei intends to build the service using Qualcomms code-division multiple access technology to help CAT Telecom in its plan to expand its mobile-phone network nationwide. At present, the company offers the service only in Bangkok and other main cities. The early part of the system was launched in February 2003 with a subscriber capacity of 1 million and was built under a contract awarded to Hutchison CAT Wireless Multimendia, a venture between Hong Kongs Hutchison Whampoa and CAT.
          
           The technology, known as CDMA2, is the worlds second-most common mobile phone technology after GSM (global system for mobile).
          
           The work will be carried out in the remaining 51 provinces on top of the 25 provinces in Thailands central region in which CAT Telecom already provides service for subscribers, said Anusorn.
          
           He said the winning bidder was obliged to build up at least 1,600 base stations in target areas over the next two years starting from the contract signing date.
          
           There will have to be at least 800 new base stations in the first year, with the rest coming in year two, and Anusorn said that he expected at least part of the expanded mobile network to go into service later this year.
          
           Huawei, which last month was given a $10 billion credit line from Chinas Development Bank to finance its programme of overseas expansion, aims to boost sales abroad to $4 billion next year from $2.2 billion in 2004 after signing the five-year facility with the state-owned lender.
          
           Huawei, founded in 1988 by former Chinese army officer Ren Zhengfei, met a goal of doubling sales abroad last year after wining $400 million of contracts in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
          
           Up until now, the largest Thai customer of Huawei, Chinas largest supplier of telecommunications equipment, has been Advanced Info Service Plc, the company founded by Thaksins family, and which dominates the Thai mobile market, using a GSM system
          

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