June 30, 2021 at 07:35 pm
Ray S. Eñano
The telecom sector in the Philippines is zooming just in the right time. From its fledgling state a few years back, the telecommunications industry has become vibrant, competitive and fast-evolving.
The telecom progress is one of the unheralded accomplishments of the government. President Rodrigo Duterte’s hands-on approach in solving the problems of the sector has righted the ship. Internet usage in the Philippines has surged by as much as 500 percent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A number of factors have contributed to the sector’s quick turnaround. For starters, President Duterte allowed a third major telco player to compete with dominant players Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc., and ordered local government units in July last year to speed up the release of permits related to the rollout of infrastructure.
Following the directive, a total of 1,636 permits were issued for DITO, Globe and Smart in 2019, and 6,451 permits the following year.
The National Telecommunications Commission reported that from January to April 2021, 2,789 permits have already been issued to telcos. The increase in permits resulted in more towers built.
Telecom companies in 2019 built 1,746 towers and by 2020, a total of 4,337 towers were constructed, or up 148 percent. The NTC said telcos have built 1,672 towers as of April this year. The Philippines now 24,614 cellular towers to date. Globe accounted for 10,941 towers, while Smart built 10,433. DITO has erected 3,240 towers.
Telcos continue to invest heavily on their fiber optic network with a total of 846,323 cable-kilometers already laid out across the Philippines to date, up 16.5 percent from 726,705 cable-kilometers completed at the end of 2020.
Smart has the widest network with 497,700 cable-kilometers of fiber optic built. Converge ICT Solutions Inc. laid out 260,030 cable-kilometers while Globe has 72,573 cable-kilometers and DITO with 16,020 cable-kilometers.
Converge’s emergence as major service provider has heightened competition in the industry. It disrupted the duopoly when it offered its pure fiber internet service that is faster and more affordable. Amid the pandemic, it was able to more than double its fiber backbone and nearly double its subscriber base.
Converge aims to reach 55 percent of Philippine households by 2025. As of end-March, its end-to-end fiber network already passed 7.1 million homes, or around 35 percent of the population, as it recently connected Visayas and Mindanao to its national fiber backbone.
With all these developments, Ookla (the global leader in mobile and broadband network intelligence) said Philippine fixed broadband speed now ranks 65th out of 180 countries, while ranking 77th out of 137 countries in mobile. The steep climb in rankings is phenomenal. The country’s average download speeds for fixed broadband only last November 2020 ranked 103rd and 110th for mobile globally.
Out of 50 countries in Asia, the country’s internet speed now placed 17th for fixed broadband and 23rd for mobile. In Asia-Pacific, the Philippines ranked 14th for fixed broadband and 12th for mobile out of 46 countries.
The Philippines is now in the middle of the pack in ASEAN, ranking 5th in both fixed broadband and mobile out of 10 countries.
Ookla’s report on the latest fixed broadband download speed represent a big improvement of 642.50 percent since the Duterte administration came in in July 2016. Meanwhile, the latest mobile speed represents an improvement of 329.70 percent during the same timeframe.
The fast-tracking of telco infrastructure rollout, meanwhile, is expected to continue as more LGUs comply with President Duterte’s directive. The NTC, PLDT Inc. Globe, Converge and DITO also welcomed the Department of Public Works and Highways’ initiative to allow telecommunication companies to occupy a portion of the government’s right of way (ROW) as part of the government’s thrust to ensure internet connectivity throughout the country. The new DPWH directive will help speed up implementation of telco infrastructure projects, especially along national roads.
In a world where digitization is being sped up to meet the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s significant improvement in providing better telco and internet services may just be the administration greatest achievement.
The next president should sustain the gains of the administration until that time when Philippine telcos finally belong to the elite group of internet providers in the world.
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