NTC Starts Bi-monthly Meetings with Telcos to Further Improve Internet Speed

Published January 24, 2021, 5:23 PM

by Edgard Hilario

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) this weekend invited Globe and Smart to its first bi-monthly meeting with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) on the first week of February to help ensure that the telcos’ plans for expansion and improvement in 2021 are completed in time.

In the meeting, telcos are expected to brief the NTC on the status of their network roll-outs and current problems encountered. The NTC aims to determine how government can help address said issues, particularly “red tape” challenges.  The NTC said that it shall push for front-loaded implementation of telcos’ roll-out plans, particularly for the first two quarters of 2021. 

The bi-monthly meetings will allow the NTC to closely monitor telcos’ progress in helping the country improve its internet speed resulting to better global rankings in Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index.  

The latest Ookla Speedtest Global Index reported an impressive 14-notch jump in the Philippines’ ranking in mobile Internet connection speed is sustained. The country’s average mobile Internet speed in December 2020 registered at 22.50 megabits per second (Mbps) compared to 18.49 Mbps in November 2020. 

With a total of 118 million tests conducted in all of the country’s regions, cities and municipalities throughout 2020, the monthly increase in speed of 4Mbps for mobile from November to December  was the highest monthly increase since July 2016. The improvement in mobile internet connection pulled the country’s rank up the past month to 29th from 34th out of 50 Asian countries and to 18th from 22nd out of 46 Asia Pacific countries. The change comes after the President’s directive last July 2020 on the need to expedite the facilitation of LGU permits in relation to building cellular towers. Since then, there has been a significant increase in the issuance of permits from July to December 2020 vis-à-vis the average monthly numbers of permits issued in 2019. 

The NTC reported that in 2019, a monthly average of 63 permits were issued for Globe and a monthly average of 50 for Smart.  However, the average monthly number of permits issued on July to December 2020 rose by 552.65% (348 permits) for Globe and 194.33% (97 permits) for Smart.  

The fast-tracking of the issuance of permits resulted in an increase in building cellular towers. From July to December 2020, a total of 2,939 additional towers/physical sites were built. The country has a total of 22,834 cellular tower/sites to date with Globe having 10,395, Smart and DITO having 10,079 and 2,360 respectively. 

Telcos also continue to invest heavily on their fiber optic network with a total of 543,740 cable-kilometers already laid out all over the country to date. 

Smart/PLDT currently has the widest network with 429,270 cable-kilometers of fiber optic built. Globe has laid-out 67,414 cable-kilometers, Converge with 33,000 and DITO with 14,056. 

In 2020 alone, a total of 144,551 cable-kilometers of fiber optic were rolled-out with Smart/PLDT adding 106,914 cable-kilometers, Globe with 13,414, Converge with 10,167 and DITO with 14,056 cable-kilometers more.

The government’s Common Tower Policy is also aimed at generating faster rollout of telco infrastructure to meet the increasing demand for mobile internet services.  Building additional towers is seen to be essential in drastically increasing internet speeds to enable the country to be more competitive globally. 

Globe said that it has finalized partnerships with 11 tower companies, while Smart signified that it has already agreements with 9 tower companies.

DITO’s launch commercially on March 2021 has also prompted incumbents Globe and Smart to increase capital expenditures significantly with Globe set to spend P90 billion, and Smart P92 billion in 2021.  Both investments are the highest annually for each telco for the past six years. DITO, meanwhile, plans to go head on with the incumbents fulfilling its commitment of spending P150 billion in 2020 for its infrastructure roll-out.

NTC said that monthly measurement of internet speeds will continue.