Globe exec tackles the country’s connectivity issues

The ongoing pandemic has revealed a lot of realizations on our end, among them the ever-increasing need for connectivity, especially as working and learning have shifted to online for most Filipinos.

Meeting such demands requires an improved Internet infrastructure, enabled by effective collaboration between the national and local governments and the players from the private sector.

In a recent BusinessWorld Insights online forum titled “A Connected Nation: State of Internet Connectivity in the Philippines,” Gil Genio, chief technology and information officer of Globe Telecom, Inc., shared his thoughts on what needs to be done to improve the country’s Internet connectivity.

Mr. Genio first recognized the need for increased internet speeds, citing data gathered by leading mobile analytics firms. Opensignal recently reported that the country’s mobile internet speeds are up to 8.3 mbps (megabytes per second) with the 4G availability of about 83%, while Ookla measures the Philippines’ mobile internet at about 6.84 mbps, and fixed internet at about 25.3 mbps.

While these metrics indicate growth, these might not be the case for every online user, especially for those at the “bottom one-third of the speed distribution.”

Gil Genio, Globe Telecom, Inc. chief technology and information officer

“I think that there is progress in average internet speeds, but none of these things will matter if an individual, a household, or business feels that they have been left out because their speeds are not up to scratch or they have no internet or fiber,” Mr. Genio stressed.

The chief technology and information officer believes that telcos like Globe are simply a part of solving the country’s connectivity issues, which has at its core the building of digital infrastructure.

“Globe has been consistent in its position that our fundamental digital infrastructure in our country needs to be solved by everyone, not just by telcos,” he said.

An issue he has observed hampering the improvement of connectivity is the resistance of local government units and homeowners associations against cell sites and fiber, which are among the essential components for the infrastructure.

“In fact, some LGUs even passed ordinances preventing sites in residential areas, which is now regrettable given the pandemic,” Mr. Genio recalled, having noted as well that according to Google’s Mobility Report there has been 43% reduction in people staying at workplaces and 23% increase in people staying in their residences over the past six months.

This poses a challenge in adding up to the number of cell sites and fiber country, which Mr. Genio observed has been left out by its neighbors such as Vietnam and Indonesia.

“My own personal ambition is that if the country can get about 50- to 60,000 in the next three years — and with the help of independent tower companies plus intense competition among players — we will actually get to a decent kind of penetration for mobile internet,” Mr. Genio shared.

He also strongly holds that there should be more fiber connections since these will better serve about 25 million households in the country that are continuing their work or classes at home.

“All of them need fiber, copper, mobile internet capacity, however they can get it,” he added.

Windows of opportunity

Thankfully, Mr. Genio noted, with the work of the Anti-Red Tape Authority and the issuance of the joint memorandum circular (JMC) streamlining procedures for building common towers, permits have now come at a fast pace.

“In 2019 we added double the number of sites versus 2018. In 2020, because of the JMC, and despite the difficult challenges posed by the pandemic, it is a pleasant surprise that we might actually exceed the number of cell sites we added in 2019,” he said.

Moreover, Mr. Genio sees a “window of opportunity” opening with the passage of Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, or the Bayanihan 2, which suspends requirements to secure permits needed for telco infrastructure.

“It is a real window of three years if we usher in a very real ‘Build, Build, Build’ for telcos and digital infrastructure,” he said.

Nonetheless, he believes that collaboration between private and government sectors shall continue by determining in which areas can the government play a role in enhancing connectivity, especially in terms of bringing access to remote areas.

“I think a cooperative arrangement with the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) and the telcos, with respect to their program, can fast-track some of these things, acknowledging of course that sometimes the government doesn’t necessarily have the full budget in order to address this quickly,” he explained.

With hindrances removed and opportunities opened, hopes for improved connectivity in the country are getting higher. For Mr. Genio, Globe will continue its commitment to ensuring a wide range of choices for every individual, whether it’s fiber or mobile internet, from Wi-Fi to LTE and 5G.

“We cannot do this overnight. We cannot do this alone. Thanks to the government that has listened, we now have a clear window with respect to the permits. So now, it’s part of our job to make sure all of these happens,” he said. “But our commitment [remains] to make sure that every Filipino does have that access.”