By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

ISOC edotco Towers, Inc., one of two tower companies acquiring some of the PLDT group’s telecom towers, aims to build nearly 500 towers in Luzon this year, as part of its goal to help the government in achieving 66,000 new tower builds by 2026, a company official said.

“I intend to build close to 500 this year. We’ve started already,” ISOC edotco Towers Acting Country Managing Director Suraj Narayanan told BusinessWorld on Thursday.

“The 500 towers are concentrated in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) and South Luzon, and with the recent acquisition in Visayas and Mindanao, we will reach those areas also,” he added.

The PLDT group announced in April that its subsidiaries, Smart Communications, Inc. and Digitel Mobile Philippines, Inc., had signed sale and purchase deals in connection with the sale of 5,907 telecom towers and related passive telecom infrastructure for P77 billion to the subsidiaries of international telecommunications infrastructure services companies edotco Group and EdgePoint.

The 5,907 towers — almost half of PLDT’s total tower portfolio — are spread across the Philippines, with 2,973 being acquired by ISOC edotco Towers, a subsidiary of edotco Group, and 2,934 towers by Comworks Infratech Corp., a subsidiary of EdgePoint.

On Wednesday, PLDT, Inc. announced the first closing on its sale and leaseback towers agreement involving 3,012 telecom towers, or more than half of the towers being monetized by the group. It received corresponding cash consideration of approximately P39.2 billion.

ISOC edotco Towers’ Mr. Narayanan said that with its acquisition of PLDT’s telecom towers, it expects to manage close to 3,500 towers in the country by the end of the year.

In 2019, the tower company said it would build 70 common towers in the province of Cavite.

Adlan Tajudin, edotco Group’s chief executive officer, said that when the pandemic struck the Philippines in 2020, processing of tower permits was halted due to the closure of offices.

“Essentially, the rollout slowed down tremendously during these two years. I think in 2022, permits are coming out again,” he added.

With the common tower policy in place, tower companies in the Philippines now only need to secure a maximum of nine permits, down from 27 to 28 permits previously, according to Mr. Narayanan.

“It only takes between three to four months to get the permits from 10 to 12 months previously,” he added.

Mr. Tajudin said of the Philippine market: “The Philippines is a very strategic market for us, and part of our plan is actually portfolio rebalancing, moving from frontier to emerging markets.”

“So, our presence in the Philippines is very important, one for portfolio mix and second for growth in the Philippines, where we see that there’s going to be a phenomenal growth on tower infrastructure,” he added.

Aside from the Philippines, the edotco Group also manages telecom towers in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan and Laos.

With the recent tower acquisition in the country, Mr. Tajudin said the Philippines “will contribute between, initially, 15% to our total revenue, and that should grow over a period of time given the growth potential that we see in the Philippines.”

“Our biggest is still our home market, Malaysia,” he noted.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology has been pushing for telcos to share infrastructure since 2017, saying every tower in the country serves more than 7,000 subscribers, as opposed to the ideal of having 1,000 subscribers per tower, and the usual 2,000 subscribers per tower in countries with faster internet.