Elon Musk’s Starlink in PH


Anna Mae Lamentillo

Digital technology played a key role at the height of the global health crisis caused by COVID-19. As the pandemic disrupted our way of life, the need to innovate became more crucial and urgent. Digitalization became synonymous to new normal. 

The pandemic caused the great pivot to digital transformation. Businesses operated on work-from-home or hybrid setup, while essential industries that had to maintain on-site operations adopted technologies such as cashless payments and other online transactions to minimize physical contact. Schools went online. Meetings were held virtually. Even medical checkups shifted to teleconsultation. 

For a developing country like the Philippines, the pandemic also further emphasized the need to immediately address inadequate ICT infrastructure, which has widened the digital divide. 

The National ICT Household Survey (NICTHS), which was conducted by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Philippine Statistical Research and Training Institute, revealed that cellular signal reaches 92 percent of surveyed barangays, with 3G technology prevalent in rural areas; over 90 percent have 24/7 electricity supply; and about 91 percent have a cellular signal.

However, when it comes to access to free Wi-Fi, only 12 percent of all the barangays have access. About 29 percent of barangays have a fiber optic cable (FOC) network installed in their communities, mostly in urban areas. One in five (20%) barangays have no internet service providers (ISPs).

On the household level, while 95 percent have access to electricity, only 18 percent of households in the country have an internet connection. Majority of households that do not have an internet connection cited high cost and unavailability of internet service in their area as main barriers to access.

THE AUTHOR (center) meets with Starlink Executives Ryan Goodnight (second from left), and Rebecca Hunter (second from right), together with Brian Poe Llamanzares (right), and Ramon Garcia (left).

Starlink in PH

The entry of Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) to the Philippines will be a gamechanger. With its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite network constellation called Starlink, it can improve internet access in unserved and underserved areas in the country.

As of mid-2021, Starlink is comprised of over 1,600 satellites. But the company aims to have as many as 42,000 satellites to be able to deliver high-speed, low-cost internet to remote regions across the globe.

The signing of the amended Public Service Act (PSA)—which allows up to 100% foreign ownership of public services in the country—was actually a main deciding factor for the company’s entry to the local market since all of SpaceX’s technologies are proprietary.

In assisting SpaceX in its planned establishment in the country, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) emphasized that this technology will further capacitate micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), facilitate online learning, e-commerce and fintech. 

SpaceX’s Starlink will augment and complement existing broadband capacities, enabling faster broadband speed and better connectivity, particularly in areas where connectivity has been difficult or impossible.

SpaceX is targeting to deploy three gateways in the first phase of their launch in the Philippines, which is set to be the first in Southeast Asia to avail of such technology.