Advanced Info Service (AIS) says the auction for fourth-generation (4G) licences must proceed as soon as possible to avoid losing ground to other countries. "Sales of 4G licences will not only stimulate network investments from mobile operators but also benefit the overall economy and customers nationwide," newly appointed chief executive Somchai Lertsutiwong said. He said Thailand was ready for 4G service, as witnessed by the jump in smartphone and mobile data users after 3G wireless broadband service began commercially last year. The planned 4G-spectrum auction has been temporarily suspended by the junta. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) had planned to sell two licences for the 1800-megahertz spectrum next month and hold another auction for the 900-MHz spectrum in November. Somchai said AIS, Thailand's biggest mobile operator, is repositioning itself as a "digital life service provider" to cope with rapidly changing markets that reflect different customer lifestyles. Competition in the local mobile market will intensify in the second half of this year as mobile users seek higher data speeds and more sophisticated apps and gadgets. "Thailand can no longer afford to fall further behind other countries, particularly our neighbours," Somchai said. He acknowledged that the suspended auction would affect AIS the most, as the company would have the least amount of spectra once its concession with TOT Plc expired in September 2015. The chief executive said the delay would also create a lost opportunity for the country, industry and customers, as they would miss a chance to experience super-fast wireless broadband service. AIS has 42mn subscribers, 26.5mn of whom are 3G customers. Col Settapong Malisuwan, chairman of the NBTC's telecom committee, said the panel believed 4G could generate hundreds of billions of baht for telecommunications-related industries and the overall economy. He said the big three mobile operators – AIS, DTAC and True Move ¬– invested 70bn baht in network expansion in the first year after the 3G auction in 2012. More than 25% of Thailand's 100mn mobile subscribers now use 3G. AIS shares closed Friday on the stock exchange of Thailand at 216 baht, unchanged, in heavy trade worth 1.15bn baht.