Amid continuing permitting challenges relating to the establishment of new facilities, telecommunication providers in the Philippines serve more customers per site compared to other operators Asia, Globe Telecom said.
According to Globe Chief Information & Technology Officer Gil Genio, user-per-site density in the Philippines is about 2,244, based on estimates of 21,000 total cell sites against internet users of around 47.1 million.
In Vietnam, which is similar in size to the Philippines, has a much lower user-per-site density of only 860, based on total number of cell sites of 55,000 against internet users of 47.3 million, which is also almost equal to the Philippines’ total internet users of 47.1 million. Malaysia, with total cell sites of 22,000 against internet users of 20.6 million has a user-per-site density of 937. Japan with 220,000 cell sites against internet users of 115 million has a user-per-site density of 522 while China with 1.18 million cell sites against internet users totaling 688 million, has a user-per-site density of 566.
Currently, Globe Telecom has a cell site backlog of around 3,000 sites owing to difficulties in securing permits from various local government units, homeowners associations and other government agencies, that cause considerable delay in the construction of such facilities, said Genio. According to him, at least 25 permits are needed to put up one cell sites and the permitting process takes at least 8 months to complete barring major concerns from various agencies. He stressed that construction of additional sites is critical in improving internet services in the country, pointing out that this will provide more bandwidth for local internet users.
While some special interest groups have proposed for the adoption of open access model in the Philippines, Genio emphasized that such policy is good only for mature economies with good infrastructure investments. The open access model allows the sharing the physical infrastructure across multiple operators which can contribute significantly to improving cost effectiveness.
In the country, however, such model should be applied only in industries where players contribute infrastructure investment on a reciprocal basis. “The problem is congestion because of disproportionate number of cell sites versus traffic. Tower sharing will not alleviate congestion as current sites are in same locations. Tower co-location will not solve anything if we maintain same number of cell sites; rather, we need to build more sites,” Genio emphasized.
To improve cell site per user density in the Philippines, the government needs to prioritize infrastructure builds for the telco industry. The government, particularly at the local level, should simplify the acquisition process for cell sites and rationalize permitting process including tower fees, he said. He also said spectrum management and monitoring by the National Telecommunications Commission is also important. “Spectrum allocation is a function of site density in order to serve customers effectively. Spectrum must not be left in the hands of private companies that do not use it to benefit consumers,” he said.
Genio said Globe also supports an update on the country’s ICT strategy and plan including the development of a national broadband plan to improve delivery of government services; promote process efficiencies for public service and provide WiFi services in public areas and internet connectivity in public schools. The company also supports calls for an amendment on existing laws as the Telecom Policy Act of 1935 and Republic Act 7925 or the Public Telecommunications Act of 1995 to reflect 21st century requirements and enable rationalization of the management, allocation or assignment of radio frequency spectrum in a manner that is transparent, fair, and economically efficient and effective, he added.