P18B needed for PH to catch up in telco

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    By JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and MYLA IGLESIAS

    The Philippines remains a laggard in the region in terms of internet speed despite significant improvement in recent years.

    According to the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), the difference is governments in Southeast Asia had been investing heavily in their telecom infrastructure whereas, in the country, private sector takes the lead in spending.

    In a virtual press briefing at Malacañang, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said the government would need at least P18 billion to fully improve the broadband and mobile service in the country to make it at par with other countries, at least in Southeast Asia.

    Yet, Cordoba sees services to further improve in the first quarter of 2021 due to competition.

    The Philippines ranks 32nd out of 50 countries in terms of fixed broadband speed and 34th in mobile broadband speed.

    Cordoba said based the Oookla Speedtest Global Index, the Philippines’ fixed download speed already improved by 262.7 percent or from 7.91 Mbps (megabyte per second) in July 2016 to 28.69 Mbps as of November 2020, while the Philippines’ mobile download speed improved by 148.52 percent from 7.44 Mbps in July 2016 to 18.49 Mbps in November 2020.

    Cordoba said in terms of mobile speed, Thailand ranked 16th and Vietnam ranked 18th, while Thailand ranked 2nd and Vietnam ranked 14th in fixed broadband speed.

    Other Southeast Asian nations that ranked higher than the Philippines in terms of mobile speed are Singapore (6th), Laos (22nd), Malaysia (23rd) Myanmar, (25th) and Cambodia (33rd); and in fixed broadband speed are Singapore (1st), Malaysia (11th) and Laos (29th).

    “Countries that ranked higher than us, it’s their government that spent for the infrastructure,” Cordoba said in Pilipino.

    He said that Thailand for instance spent $343 million to ensure the internet broadband connectivity of 24,7000 villages while Vietnam sent $820 million on a 23,000 kilometer submarine cable system.

    Malaysia invested $233.6 million to boost its broadband coverage and speed while Singapore invested $1.7 billion for its Smart Nation deployment and digital transformation program.

    Cordoba said South Korea, which has the fastest internet networks in the world, spent an average of $24 billion for their public internet infrastructure.

    He said the Philippines is just starting in its investments with a close to P6 billion budget for the National Broadband Program in 2021 under the Department Information and Communication Technology which aims to hasten the deployment of fiber optic cables and wireless technologies across the country.

    Shaping up?

    President Duterte had given the telecommunications firms until December to shape up or ship out following complaints about slow internet connection and poor mobile services.

    Cordoba said PLDT Inc./Smart Communication Inc. and Globe Telecoms have improved their services but competition posed by the entry Dito Telecommunity Corp. which will start full operations in March with a minimum of 27 mbps in speed “will drive the services to improve and will drive prices to go down.

    In the same briefing, Al Panlilio, PLDT chief revenue officer and Smart president and chief executive officer (CEO), said the company will increase the average mobile download speed of 23 Mbps this year to 30 Mbps by 2021 in Metro Manila and key cities.

    This will further raise the minimum internet speed to 60 Mbps by 2022 to 2025, as network coverage increases by 51 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent and 84 percent, respectively.

    For fixed broadband, the minimum internet speed will be at 20 Mbps in 2021 and PLDT is expected to migrate 100 percent of its copper subscribers to fiber like services by 2022, Panlilio said.

    PLDT has allocated P260 billion in the past five years and P70 billion this year to support its network improvement.

    Ernest Cu, Globe president and CEO, said the company will increase capital expenditure by 39 percent in 2021 to P70 billion, from P50.3 billion this year, to fund its massive network improvement as competition intensifies.

    Globe will ramp up its investment to put up more than 2.5 times fiber to homes and over 2,000 new cell sites by next year.

    Cu said Globe has exceeded its site rollout and upgrade target this year with the building of 1,300 new cell sites this year and 708 5G sites and 10,876 sites upgraded to 4G/Long Term Evolution.

    Deployment

    Cordoba said despite the pandemic, the telcos deployed this year 144,727 km. fiber optic network to further improve services, thanks to faster approval of permits and release of licenses.

    As of end-November this year, NTC said the government has issued 4,644 permits to DITO Telecommunity, Globe and Smart to put up towers. Of the total, 2,510 towers were built so far, of which 1,536 were for DITO, 661 for Globe and 63 for Smart.

    With this, total towers in the country now stood at 22,405, of which Globe has 10,270 towers, Smart has 10,069 and DITO, 2,066 towers.

    However, the total towers built is still far from what other Asian countries have. Vietnam, for instance, has 80,000 towers but these are mostly funded by the government, Cordoba said.

    In terms of fiber optic rollout, PLDT, Globe, DITO and Converge ICT Solutions Inc. have a total of 543,960 cable kilometers, a significant improvement from last year’s 399,233 km.

    Way forward

    Cordoba said the NTC has asked the telecommunication firms to ensure steady and strong signals during the holidays as more people are expected to go on line this year and even hold “virtual” reunions and parties due to the coronavirus disease.

    Smart and Globe assured the public of stable signals during the holidays even as they vowed to continue improving their products and services next year.

    Adel Tamano, Chief Administrative Officer of Dito said their company had already built 1,900 towers since the issuance of their franchise and targets to launch 5G calls in Metro Manila by March 2021.

    Converge chief operating officer Jesus Romero said that they already have 3.5 million high speed fiber ports and plans to add some 1.8 million ports in 2021. He said they also intend to put up a domestic submarine backbone to further improve its services.