Globe embarks on ‘aggressive’ cell site building ahead of third telco entry

MANILA, Philippines — As the third telco player is expected to have a technical launch next month, one of the Philippines’ existing telco duopoly is embarking on an “aggressive” cell site build-up next quarter to increase network capacity that has come under strain during lockdowns.

In a statement on Monday, Ayala-led Globe Telecom Inc. said “several cell sites” will be built from July to September in “several areas” nationwide. Globe, however, did not disclose the number of cell towers the company plans to build.

“The company’s build efforts will help increase capacity in response to the challenge of the growing demand for data and need for connectivity as the country adapts to the new normal,” the Ayala-led telco giant said in a statement.

But Globe’s plan comes at an interesting time. Apart from demonstrating that the company is so far proceeding with its P63-billion capital expenditure plan this year, which risked getting trimmed because of pandemic disruptions, the cell site expansion comes as Dito Telecommunity prepares to enter the telco market.

The Dennis Uy-led firm is scheduled to do a technical launch of its services in July, under which regulators would evaluate Dito’s capacity to comply with company commitments, including a 37% network coverage on its first year. The Department of Information and Communication Technology is set to have a meeting with Dito’s officials this week.

It remains unclear whether Dito would be able to meet its technical launch deadline— the company has not repeated requests for comment— but as it is, Globe’s project to increase telco towers would bode well for its upcoming competition, as well as that of PLDT Inc.

For consumers, Globe said the projects would result in “temporary service disruptions” as outlays are lined up. These interruptions can be in the form of “loss of signal or internet connectivity for at least an hour anytime during the day.”

“We would like to assure our customers that we will send out advisories days before the service disruptions will happen so that they can fully prepare when the time comes,” said Joel Agustin, senior vice-president for program development-network technical group.

That said, once the construction of more towers is completed, new cell sites are expected to boost network connectivity for clients. The Philippines suffers from shoddy telco service as around 18,000 combined cell sites of existing players service 30.4 million mobile subscribers as of 2017, the latest period on which data is available.

To compare, Thailand has around 60,000 cell sites for 26.5 million cell phone owners, data showed.

Telco firms are heavily capex-driven so projects such building cell sites were heavily disrupted by stringent restrictions under an enhanced community quarantine in Luzon from March 17 to May 31. Restrictions started to ease last June 1 when some construction activities were allowed to restart.

While Globe has so far not announced a reduction on its P63-billion capex plans for the year, the company reduced its second-quarter outlays due to the lockdown.

“Globe remains steadfast in its bid to further improve its services to customers despite health and safety concerns brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said.

Shares at Globe dipped 1.97% to close at P2,088 apiece on Monday. The benchmark index dropped 1.4%.