Catching up on delays, Dito eyes wider network by yearend

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Catching up on delays, Dito eyes wider network by yearend
File photo shows a cell tower.
The STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines’ third telco provider is eyeing to build more towers this year, enough to cover nearly half of the population once the company goes commercially online by March.

“We are hoping more than 2,000 by end of 2020. Hopefully, we can achieve that so that we can offer a wider coverage to the public,” Rodolfo Santiago, chief technology officer at Dito Telecommunity, told reporters in an online briefing.

At that level, Santiago said Dito can safely cover between 47-49% of population, way above the 37% regulatory requirement on its first year. As of October 28, the Chinese firm-backed telco has directly constructed 1,532 towers nationwide.

These towers come on top of cellular sites separately established by companies involved in tower-building business and tapped by Dito, the number of which was not revealed.

That said, Dito’s own building already represented a huge catch-up for the Dennis Uy-led company that missed its original technical launch last July due to lockdowns that disrupted business plans. At the time, Dito had only completed around 300 towers, prompting the firm to ask for a 6-month extension to meet commitments.

During a technical launch, now rescheduled for January, regulators will examine if Dito meets the required speed and coverage under clearances that allowed the telco to operate. For the first of five monitoring years, the targets are pegged at least 27 Mbps speed and 37% population coverage, easily beat by 2,000 towers at 49% coverage if that materializes by yearend. 

For the second year, the commitment was at 55 Mbps and 51% coverage. “So we just need additional 2-4% coverage. That’s safely around 2,200 towers (and) we’ll cover the minimum 51%. We wanted to achieve that margin, that’s very safe. We have confidence of passing our technical audit for next year,” Santiago said.

Adel Tamano, chief administrative officer, said in the same briefing: “It really bodes well that we will pass our technical audit.”

For the speed, Santiago reiterated Dito’s towers are using 4G on default, adding that 5G towers are also getting rolled out.  

Duterte factor?

How tower-building was accelerated was unclear, except for Santiago saying that President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to speed up permitting last July “greatly helped.”

At the same time though, Santiago admitted there remains “significant” red tape on permitting, especially for safety and environmental clearances which is understandable.

“For instance, for the CAAP permit, you can’t really build towers that would interfere on the flight path of the plane, that still remains. But there are some local permitting requirements no longer required,” Santiago said, pertaining to the aviation regulator.

Duterte himself was instrumental to Dito’s entry after he prodded agencies for a new player to challenge the existing duopoly, Globe Telecom Inc. and PLDT Inc. The accelerated bidding saw the Dennis Uy-led company, and its partner China Telecom Inc., as winners.

But laying down the groundwork is just one part of the job. Tamano also said the company has started building stores in malls, while more than doubling manpower to 626 as of October 26 from 300 last September 17. Customer support services as well as sales support are likewise being developed. 

SIM cards are already available, but all these will not be rolled out until Dito goes online to the public by July. “We have to prepare to whole package,” Tamano said.

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