TECHNOLOGY

BUILDING A DIGITAL NATION
Harnessing Technology Towards A More Progressive Philippines

 

More than two decades ago, waiting for a telephone line in the Philippines was often likened to Waiting for Godot. It was typical to hear middle-class Filipinos grumbling about their decade-long application for a fixed-line subscription, or having a “party line” shared by more than one subscriber.

 

The country has grown by leaps and bounds since. Nowadays, many Filipinos can dispense with having a fixed line but cannot go by without a mobile phone. Many even have more than one SIM, and households can now connect to the internet. Those in the countryside are not only able to exchange messages via SMS or email, but can also check farm gate prices, get connected to buyers here and abroad, and transact wherever and whenever they are.

 

Gil Genio, Chief Technology and Information Officer (CTIO) of Globe, said all these were made possible by telecommunications players such as Globe. “Our public is made up of about 100 million individuals, 20 million households, and a million businesses. They all benefit from digital transformation—how we work, how we play, how we get connected, how we manage our supply chain—almost all the things we do every day use the power of technology powered by a telecoms network like Globe,” he added.

 

 

ECONOMIC CONNECTION

 

Getting connected to the information superhighway is the “modern-day equivalent of having farm-to-market roads, bridges, and railways” that enables the country to make economic development a reality, he said.

 

“By overcoming information barriers, augmenting factors, and transforming products, digital technologies can make development more inclusive, efficient, and innovative,” according to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.

 

The Philippines, currently one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, ranked 15th in the world in terms of number of internet users, with 44 million or 43.5% of its population. It ranked highest among 15 countries in Asia Pacific, in terms of average connection speeds for mobile connection, with a speed of 13.9 Mbps, according to the 3rd quarter Akamai State of Internet Report.

 

Globe believes, however, that the country needs to do more to be at par with the world’s tiger economies and with how they harness ICT as catalyst to progress.

 

“We always look at it, not as a beginning with an end, and know that our work will not be done. When you think about this industry, about Globe, and our customers, every year and every month, people are looking for more. There’s always something to improve and something better. What’s important for us is that the work we do today always builds on something better for next month or next year,” Genio said.

 

NO LONGER THIRD WORLD

 

Five years after its successful network modernization program that saw mobile data exploding in the Philippines, Globe embarked on a US$1 billion nationwide infrastructure program to achieve its vision for the Philippines to become an admired nation for its first-world internet connectivity.

 

It has allotted the bulk of its Capital Expenditures to the deployment of fiber optic cables in 20,000 barangays all over the country to provide faster and more reliable Internet access in about two million homes nationwide. The infrastructure build is expected to take five years and will extend network coverage to more areas that currently have no connection or spotty service.

 

Guided by its purpose of “treating people right to create a Globe of Good” the company is also aggressively fast-tracking a multi-pronged network infrastructure and capacity expansion build to provide its customers a better internet experience. As of December 2016, Globe has already installed 500 long-term evolution (LTE) cell sites, mostly in Metro Manila and other highly populated areas. It has also committed to deploy about 4,500 multi-band, multimode software-defined radio station equipment to about 95% of cities and municipalities in the country within a 3-year period.

 

“If we can leverage modern technologies, pervasive networks, faster internet speeds, and greater efficiency, there will always be a better experience for everyone. This creates more happiness for people, more time with family, more efficient businesses. All these can lead to something positive for the country,” said Genio.

 

 

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES AHEAD

 

In many parts of the world, new trends such as cloud technology, mobile web services, and e-commerce are already radically changing the digital landscape. Globe views this as an opportunity “to push individuals and businesses into realizing that there are new ways of doing things, enabled by better technology, new devices, and better bandwidth.”

 

However, for this to happen, the needed telecom infrastructure must be in place to enable a pervasive internet network. “Our bigger challenge is putting the physical infrastructure. Most people don’t realize that building infrastructure takes time. We’re more than willing to provide the needed capital, but we need to overcome challenges such as securing permits to build new cell sites,” he explained. The process usually takes eight months to get at least 25 permits to build one cell site, leading to considerable delay in the deployment of telecommunication facilities.

 

Building additional cell sites is critical in improving internet services in the country to deliver more bandwidth to customers. While Globe has started to utilize the 700 MHz frequencies from the telecom assets it acquired from San Miguel Corporation in 2016, more cell sites are still needed to provide many areas in the country with better indoor penetrability and coverage.

 

As it is, the Philippines has an estimated 16,400 cell sites servicing about 47.1 million internet users. On the other hand, Vietnam, which is similar in size to the Philippines, has 70,000 cell sites for its 47.3 million internet users, more than thrice the number of cell sites compared to the Philippines. While the government recognizes the role telcos play in national development and growth, Genio said Globe needs to clearly demonstrate to its other stakeholders the impact of better internet services to the economy including GDP growth, jobs, and productivity, among others.

 

A major step towards securing the company’s future is to ensure that our infrastructure is ready for tomorrow’s business needs. Re-energizing our internal Cloud strategy is vital to our workplace and we have made significant headway in building the foundations for our Cloud infrastructure. We expanded our private cloud portfolio to VMware and Openstack, with the latter being our first venture into Open Source Cloud Computing—cheaper, simpler, and massively scalable. This engagement gives us the flexibility of public cloud and the benefits of a private cloud with its subscription-based model and flexibility allowing upgrade and downgrades anytime. Applications and systems are more reliable and perform faster on the cloud, thus improving customer experience.

 

Globe currently has a backlog of about 3,000 cell sites owing to difficulties in securing permits from various local government units, homeowners associations, and other government agencies. “If we have high-speed internet in their locality, what does that mean? It means government and citizens will have better engagement, better opportunities, better local taxes, and reduced poverty levels,” he added.

 

 

THE LAST MILE

 

As far as Globe is concerned, Genio said the Philippines still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of ICT adoption, led by greater access to a pervasive network. “Insofar as having a fundamental telecom infrastructure that can be accessed by everyone with reliable value, we are not there yet. But we will definitely be. It’s just a matter of time.”

 

“Our responsibility at Globe is to provide a pervasive and reliable communications network. But let’s not forget there’s a whole ecosystem out there—such as those who make mobile phones, laptops, tablets, large screens, apps—people who supply what people need. It’s important to sustain this ecosystem,” he stressed.

 

“All these players have to be motivated by the same goal: how to make the Philippines a nation admired with world-class connectivity. Only good things can happen if we do our jobs well.”