The pandemic brought Internet connectivity to the forefront, pressuring telcos to raise the bar to meet the surging demand for adequate mobile network connection.

During the second half of the year, telcos fast-tracked the rollout of cell towers nationwide with the help of local government units (LGUs) by reducing red tape and expediting the release of permits.

But there was also ultimatum. In his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Duterte demanded telcos PLDT and Globe Telecom to improve their services or face expropriation by December.

That day is today. The big question is, did they make the cut?

For the record, telcos had been aggressively reaching out to unserved and underserved areas.

Globe bared they have put up 211 new cell sites and 867 site upgrades in November alone. The telco rolled out 1,300 cell sites this year, much bigger compared to 500 sites in 2018 and 1,100 in 2019. Globe eyes to install 2,000 cell towers by next year.

PLDT, meanwhile, has secured a total of over 6,500 permits to build more cell towers, with the number of its base stations rising to more than 58,000 — an increase of 20% compared to 2019.

Smart, PLDT’s mobile business unit, has over 10,000 sites in the country to date, with 700 more cell sites installed by the end of 2020. Just like Globe, the company would also be rolling 2,000 new cell sites in 2021.

Based on the Speedtest Global Index, the Philippines now have 18.49Mbps for mobile Internet as of November. On paper, that was over 100% improvement.

But if we take a good look at the global rankings, the country still sits at 110th place in terms of average mobile internet download speed. The improvement made the Philippines rose only one rank above. Our mobile Internet speed is just a tenth of Singapore’s.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) admitted that the current improvements are still not enough and the country is still lagging behind its neighbors. So how can this be when telcos have been aggressive in improving their mobile services?

One possible reason for this is the lack of support from the Philippine government. The NTC also revealed that the government has made little to zero investment to improve the Philippines’ telco infrastructure.

Telcos have been carrying the entire burden of upgrading and expanding their network infrastructures over the years. It was only this pandemic year when the government realized its crucial role.

The NTC is yet to make the final verdict regarding telcos’ network services, but there’s no doubt there has been a tremendous improvement so far.

In addition, Speedtest’s report only covers November as the December report is still in the pipeline and we’ll find it out soon.

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