‘Telecom Tower Watch’ unveiled to track PH digital infra

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A recent online forum organized by private think tank Stratbase ADR Institute served as the launching pad of the Telecom Tower Watch, a multi-sectoral initiative that aim to push for faster development of the country’s digital infrastructure.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) partnered with CitizenWatch Philippines to launch the tower monitoring project.

The initiative aims to accelerate the development of the country’s digital infrastructure by establishing a regular venue for close monitoring and troubleshooting of delays in the building of cell towers and related projects.

Stratbase partnered with the Italian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines to host the “Building Digital Infrastructure for a Digital Philippines” virtual town hall last Thursday, March 11.

During the forum, Globe Telecom vice president for site acquisition and management Vince Tempongko started off the discussion by stressing that Globe is committed in investing in the country’s digital infrastructure.

The Ayala-owned telco is allocating P70 billion in capital expenditures for infrastructure growth, Tempongko said. The budget will be used to finance over 2,000 new cell towers, one million fiber-to-the-home lines, and an aggressive 5G roll-out.

There will be a specific focus on enhancing Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) for clearer voice calls, faster call setup, and almost zero dropped calls, according to Tempongko.

Smart Communications vice president and head of regulatory affairs Roy Ibay, on the other hand, said his company has earmarked investment of up to P92 billion for operation expenditures in 2021. These funds will also cover network expansion and improvements, Ibay said.

Both telco representatives said they encountered problems that impeded cell site rollout last year. These challenges ranged from homeowners associations prohibiting cell tower construction within their subdivisions due to resident’s health concerns, to LGUs excessive collection of regulatory fees and permit requirements that caused unnecessary delays.

Ashutosh Bhargava, business head of submarine cable manufacturer Prysmian Group, said that better Internet quality and security is not the only advantage of updating the Philippines fibre backbone. He said the lower carbon footprint of fibre lines would benefit the country’s development, too.

“The overall development of the Philippines, especially with the Philippines having 7,000 islands, can only happen when the remote areas of the Philippines are being developed,” Bhargava said.

Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) undersecretary for Digital Philippines Emmanuel Rey Caintac said the government has laid down various programs aimed at growing the fibre and cell tower buildout in areas private companies have difficulty reaching.

Two of these programs are the National Broadband Program and the Free WiFi project. The National Broadband Program seeks to upgrade the quality of Internet connectivity in the country via the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure and lighting up the NGCP fibre backbone.

As part of the program, the DICT is also exploring partnerships with LGUs and leasing the telecom industry’s excess capacities — otherwise known as dark fiber — to bring Internet to remote locations.

The Free WiFi Program, meanwhile, provides free WiFi sites by dispatching last mile connectivity. There was a 500-percent increase in free WiFi site activation last year as the government powered hospitals, rural health centers, Covid-19 facilities, and state-owned universities and colleges, Caintic claimed. This year, priority will be given to vaccination sites.

“Covid-19 has given us the opportunity. It has given us the opportunity and realization that people can sit wherever they want and work remotely. The great challenge among all these is the so called Internet connection speed,” said Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase.

“The Philippine government should invest in building digital infrastructure alongside the private sector to cope with increasing demand for connectivity,” he said.

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