The country’s two largest telecom companies are rushing the deployment of free Wi-Fi services in public places in response to the call of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte, in his first State of the Nation Address, promised to provide Wi-Fi access at no charge to users in selected public places including parks, plazas, public libraries, schools, government hospitals, train stations, airports and seaports.
PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom Inc. responded to the call by rolling out free Wi-Fi services in airport, seaports, train stations and bus terminals at no cost to the government.
Eric Alberto, executive vice president of PLDT and Smart Communications, said the group would invest about P1 billion this year to roll out Wi-Fi service hotspots in key transport hubs, government offices, and business establishments across the country.
Smart Wi-Fi public hotspots are currently undergoing upgrades at all four terminals of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City; Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao; Iloilo International Airport; Bacolod-Silay International Airport in Negros Occidental; and Dumaguete-Sibulan Airport in Negros Oriental.
Smart Wi-Fi is also now available for use by waiting passengers at the terminals of major bus companies including Alps, Five Star Bus, Isarog Bus, Jam Liner, Philtranco and Victory Liner.
Aside from major transport hubs, Smart Wi-Fi also expanded to cover more public areas such as city halls, schools and establishments such as malls, restaurants and coffee shops to address the growing demand for more public Wi-Fi hotspots in the country.
With Smart Wi-Fi, users can take advantage of free connectivity for an initial number of minutes, after which the service allows them to conveniently purchase credits from Smart to extend and boost their Internet session.
Joel Agustin, Globe senior vice president for program governance, network technical group said his company would also install fiber optic cable system to provide Light Rail Transit Line 1 and all its stations with free Wi-Fi services.
The telco provider will also enhance its wireless infrastructure by deploying cell sites in each LRT station.
“Globe will also deploy the new LTE700/1800/2600 MHz spectrum to provide adequate capacity to handle the massive mobile traffic volume at these stations,” he said.
Globe recently gained access to the 700-MHz band and acquired additional allocation in the 1800-MHz and 2600-MHz frequencies following its recent joint buyout of San Miguel’s telco assets with PLDT.
Agustin said the deployment of fiber optic cables and enhancement of the company’s wireless infrastructure along LRT 1 would improve mobile coverage and enhance network capacities. Once completed, this is expected to improve customer experience not only of those riding LRT 1 but also those plying the Taft Ave. and Rizal Ave route.
Globe will also provide free Wi-Fi connectivity in all 13 MRT stations along Edsa.
To fast track the deployment of more cell sites nationwide, Globe and PLDT asked the Duterte administration to address permit and right-of-way issues that hamper infrastructure development in the telecommunication industry.
“A lot of the infrastructure backlogs in the telecommunications industry could be attributed to challenges in getting LGU permits. This is why Globe has been calling on the government to provide policy support for initiatives to improve Internet infrastructure in the country,” Globe general counsel Froilan Castelo said.
Castelo said telecommunication companies were required to secure at least 25 permits, a few of which were also mentioned in the broadband policy paper and which caused delay in the deployment of Internet infrastructure such as cell sites and fiber builds.
Based on the study made by TowerXchange in February 2016, the number of unique physical cell sites in the Philippines was one of the lowest in Asia with a combined 15,000 cell sites.
China had the highest number with 1.18 million cell sites, followed by India with 450,000, Indonesia with 76,477, Vietnam with 55,000, Thailand with 52,483, Pakistan with 28,000, Bangladesh with 27,000 and Malaysia with 22,000 sites.
A 2014 report by Ookla, an Internet broadband testing company, ranked the Philippines 160th out of 190 countries in terms of download speed.
The Philippines is also one of the most expensive among 64 countries with median monthly cost per Mbps at $26.60.