The House ICT committee chaired by Tarlac representative in a hearing on Monday, April 8, began its deliberation on House Resolution No. 938 which directs the panel to conduct an inquiry on the rollout plans of telecommunications companies and the backlog of cell sites.
Yap said the backlog of cell sites is a pressing concern and that the Philippines has a user density per cell site of 4,000 users per cell site. He said those that have faster Internet has less than a thousand users per cell site – China has 900 while Vietnam has 800.
“Ito po yung gusto nating ma-arrive at, to have a policy and the support of a legislative on the DICT kung saan tayo pupunta. In doing so, we should not come up with a policy that increases the cost for our consumers,” Yap explained.
In his presentation on the updates on the common tower policy, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) acting secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. said the Philippines has the lowest tower density in the Asean region.
He said the Philippines has a tower density of 14 towers per 1,000 subscribers, the ideal being one tower per 1,000 subscribers. This poor tower density affects the quality of service and the coverage being enjoyed by local mobile Internet users.
Rio noted that there is a need to build more or less 50,000 towers over and above the 18,000 towers put up by local telcos Globe Telecom and Smart Communications and for a while by Sun Cellular.
He revealed that the Philippines was ahead of Vietnam in rolling out the GSM network by about five years. “But now, Vietnam has 70,000 more or so towers as against our 18,000 towers,” Rio said.
He attributed this disparity to the 2G environment where the service was mostly SMS or text messaging. “We don’t need many towers to send off the equivalent of 1.4 billion text messages in one day kasi po yung isang tower, even a million texts can be sent off in a single tower in a few minutes,” Rio said.
He said other countries like Vietnam and neighboring countries have more towers because they use the voice service. “Dito natin naramdaman na kulang na kulang ang tower natin when the Internet content came in,,” Rio remarked.
He said the DICT has come up with a formula to attract common tower providers to invest in the Philippines. Rio said the amount to install the 50,000 common towers will require about $4.5 billion investment.
“This investment will not come from the telcos but from tower companies that will invest in the country,” he clarified. He said the DICT has invited tower companies to come to the Philippines and have a chance to talk with the telcos.
“Once they get a business transaction with the telco, we tell them to come back to us to sign a binding memorandum of understanding depending on the number of towers that business transaction entails,” Rio said.
He said the DICT will facilitate the issuance of permits for the installation of common towers. Rio revealed that the DICT has been able to entice 19 tower companies which are interested to do business given the number of common towers to be installed around the country.
He said the DICT also had to convince the telcos because it is the first time that they are going into a common tower arrangement. “No local telco has an experience in common towers. Telcos have put up their own towers. We told them that the common tower policy will benefit everybody,” Rio said.
He said the DICT can come up with a one-stop shop to process the permits required for putting up the towers. “This is a proof-of-concept which we are undergoing. Just give us three months to know kung sino dito sa 19 tower companies ang pipiliin ng telcos so that we can narrow down the number to what the industry can accommodate,” Rio said.
He said it will be the telcos, and not the DICT, which will select the tower companies since the telcos are the clients and are in a better position to select who will be their tower companies.
As early as now, Rio said they have identified 1,000 possible cell sites, some of which were used by the telcos themselves and the DICT. “We have 180 towers that are just standing there because Telof (Telecommunications Office), which used to own these towers, has become defunct. We will allow theses towers to be used by a common tower company,” he said.
Rio said the DICT has formed a technical working group (TWG) with the telcos which will identify the sites where common towers will be installed and shared by the operators
He said that anybody, including the government, can use the towers. “We will be one of the biggest users of these towers as we need these badly in the propagation of the free Wi-Fi. The lack of infrastructure in remote places has made it hard for us bring the free Wi-Fi to those remote areas,” Rio said.
Local telcos Globe and Smart as well as newcomer Mislatel have expressed their support for the common tower policy.
Udenna Corporation corporate affairs group head Adel Tamano, a representative of Mislatel, said the common tower policy will have a big implication regarding how much their service will cost. “If we will use common towers, our opex (operating expense) cost will decrease which will benefit the consumers,” he said. — Ma. Victoria Palomar