Wireless broadband breaks through connectivity barriers

5G connection offers affordable internet access, bridging the digital divide across the archipelago

At a glance

  • Wireless broadband, especially 5G technology, offers significantly higher speeds, reduced latency, and improved reliability over traditional wired connections, which can revolutionize internet access in the Philippines.

  • The geographical challenges of the Philippines, an archipelagic nation with varied terrain, make traditional wired infrastructure costly and difficult to expand, highlighting the suitability of wireless solutions.

  • Despite a high median download speed for fixed broadband, the national broadband penetration rate remains low at 33%, indicating a substantial portion of the population is still without reliable internet access.

  • The introduction of 5G has the potential to support a wide range of applications beyond basic internet access, including high-definition streaming, real-time communication, and emerging technologies like augmented reality and autonomous vehicles.

  • Government and industry efforts, including the emergence of new players like DITO Telecommunity, are focusing on expanding wireless broadband to underserved areas, aiming to bridge the digital divide and enhance national connectivity.

A duopoly has dominated the Philippines' telecommunications industry for the past three decades, resulting in few consumer options, high costs, and poor service quality. This has left many Filipinos underserved and disconnected. However, the rise of wireless broadband is now challenging this status quo, offering transformative potential for expanding connectivity, especially in a country faced with geographical challenges that hinder the expansion of wired infrastructure.

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The burden of the duopoly and the rise of a new hope

The dominance of a few major players in the Philippine telecom industry has had a significant negative impact on the country's digital development. A recent policy note by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) underscores this concern. The study reveals how insufficient data transmission infrastructure hinders various sectors, including education, healthcare, and business process outsourcing. While internet penetration rates have grown from 67% to 73% between January 2020 and January 2023, highlighting the growing importance of connectivity, the duopoly remains a roadblock to further progress. Ookla data (Speedtest Global Index: Median Country Speeds) paints a concerning picture, ranking the Philippines a lowly 48th  among 181 countries in terms of fixed broadband speed as of November 2023. Furthermore, costs remain disproportionately high compared to other lower-middle-income nations.

This situation is particularly concerning, considering the Philippines boasts a relatively high median download speed of 92 Mbps for fixed broadband. However, the stark reality is that this advantage is outweighed by the low national penetration rate of only 33%. High costs associated with wired infrastructure are a major barrier, effectively pushing broadband out of reach for many Filipinos, especially those in lower income brackets.

However, wireless broadband has surfaced as a promising solution amidst these challenges.  Due to technological developments and changes in consumer preferences, wireless solutions are now reclaiming their former position on the periphery of the telecom landscape.


The emergence of wireless broadband

The arrival of 5G, the fifth generation of wireless technology, has fundamentally transformed the capabilities of wireless broadband. This next-gen technology promises blazing-fast speeds, ultra-low latency (response times), and enhanced reliability. A GSM Association (GSMA) report highlights the significant speed improvements offered by 5G, with peak download speeds reaching a staggering 20 Gigabits per second (Gbps) under ideal conditions. This exponential leap in speed translates to lightning-fast downloads, seamless high-definition content streaming, and virtually instantaneous access to online services. 5G's potential goes beyond simply improving browsing experiences. Its low latency paves the way for real-time communication advancements, fostering remote collaboration and enabling the seamless operation of emerging technologies like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and autonomous vehicles.

The evolution of wireless technology, particularly with the introduction of 5G, is changing the face of internet connectivity in the Philippines. This new generation of wireless broadband promises unprecedented speeds and capabilities, shifting consumer preferences away from traditional wired connections. In a nation where geographical diversity poses significant barriers, the agility and cost-effectiveness of wireless broadband are crucial to bridging the connectivity divide.


Advantages of 5G wireless broadband

5G technology sets new benchmarks for internet speed, latency, and reliability. With the potential for download speeds up to 20 gigabits per second, 5G surpasses traditional wired connections in both performance and efficiency. Its ultra-low latency and enhanced reliability make it suitable for a range of applications, from high-definition streaming to real-time communication and emerging technologies like augmented reality.


Addressing the digital divide

Despite a relatively high median download speed, the Philippines suffers from alarmingly low broadband penetration rates, particularly affecting those in lower income brackets.

The Philippines' unique archipelagic geography presents a significant challenge for expanding traditional wired infrastructure. Rugged terrain, scattered islands, and logistical hurdles make laying down extensive fiber optic cables costly and time-consuming. This is where wireless broadband shines. By leveraging existing cellular networks and deploying smaller, more adaptable "small cell" technology, telecommunication companies can rapidly expand coverage and reach previously underserved communities with minimal disruption compared to wired infrastructure projects. This agility makes wireless solutions a powerful tool for bridging the digital divide, ensuring that Filipinos in remote and marginalized areas are included in the digital age. With its cost-effective deployment and ability to leverage existing cellular networks, wireless broadband plays a pivotal role in overcoming these challenges. Initiatives by new players in the market, such as DITO Telecommunity, are already showing promise in reaching underserved areas.


Government initiatives and regulatory reforms

The Philippine government has proactively promoted digital transformation through various programs and regulatory reforms. These efforts aim to foster competition, stimulate innovation, and support the growth of wireless broadband networks. The National Economic and Development Authority's (NEDA) Policy Note on Open Access in Data Transmission highlights the urgent need for improved data transmission infrastructure across multiple sectors.


DITO Telecommunity: A disruptive force in the telecom industry

At the forefront of this wireless revolution stands DITO Telecommunity, a new player determined to shake up the established order. DITO is leading the charge in providing Filipinos with viable and affordable wireless broadband options. Their innovative approach involves offering competitive plans with speeds reaching up to 500 Mbps, bringing high-speed 5G internet access to regions that previously lacked reliable connectivity.

"Our wireless broadband solution is revolutionizing connectivity in the Philippines," states Ret Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Santiago, DITO's Chief Technology Officer. He emphasizes the transformative potential of their services, highlighting how DITO goes beyond simply providing internet access. "Our innovative approach not only addresses the challenges of traditional wired infrastructure but also empowers communities with the tools to participate in the digital economy and unlock new opportunities for growth and development."  DITO's commitment to affordability and accessibility ensures equitable access to the Internet's vast potential for all Filipinos.


Challenges and opportunities

Despite the optimistic outlook, skepticism about wireless technologies and the digital divide continues to affect rural and marginalized communities. However, the advent of 5G and the initiatives by companies like DITO present numerous opportunities for growth and innovation in the sector, promising a future where high-speed internet access is a reality for all Filipinos.

As the Philippines continues on its path of digital transformation, the emergence of wireless broadband, spearheaded by technologies like 5G and companies like DITO Telecommunity, is breaking down the barriers erected by the broadband duopoly. This connectivity revolution enhances consumer choice and empowers communities, fostering a more competitive, inclusive, and connected nation.

While wireless solutions present exciting possibilities, concerns about their limitations compared to wired networks still need to be addressed. Additionally, the digital divide persists in rural and marginalized communities.

Despite these challenges, the Philippine government promotes digital transformation, including regulatory reforms to encourage competition and innovation. Studies like the recent NEDA Policy Note on Open Access in Data Transmission highlight internet access deficits and emphasize that growing internet penetration rates remain insufficient for the country's development goals.


The future of Philippine connectivity

The advent of wireless broadband fueled by 5G technology is shaking up the Philippine telecom industry and promising a future of greater connectivity. As companies like DITO Telecommunity expand their reach, the barriers to internet access are lowered, paving the way for a more competitive, inclusive, and digitally connected nation.