PLDT mulls offering satellite connectivity

Elijah Felice Rosales - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Integrated telco PLDT Inc. is preparing for the looming entry of tech billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink into the country’s internet market as it plans to offer a matching space-based connectivity package to users, although it maintains that fiber remains the most reliable technology for providing web access.

In an interview with The STAR, PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said the telco giant and its wireless arm Smart Communications Inc. are studying the use of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to provide connectivity to their subscribers.

Pangilinan said PLDT and Smart hope to add space-based internet soon in its products, matching the services that will be brought here by Starlink.

“Smart and PLDT are also talking to a number of satellite operators as well. Eventually, it (space-based connectivity) will be part of the overall offering,” Pangilinan said.

PLDT president and CEO Alfredo Panlilio, however, said the telco provider has to first assess the technology’s affordability.

“Obviously,we talk about commerciality; how expensive it is to offer the service, can customers afford the service and how it performs when used in volumes,” Panlilio told The STAR.

“The best technology for connectivity remains to be fiber. It’s our flagship for broadband offering, wireless is just second. In terms of coverage, fiber runs very well,” he said.

PLDT operates the most extensive fiber network in the Philippines, spanning 837,900 kilometers as of June.

The fiber infrastructure managed by PLDT also supports Smart’s mobile services, extending 3G, 4G and LTE, and 5G to subscribers nationwide. The telco plans to widen its fiber base this year, allocating P85 billion for capital expenditures, mainly for network upgrades.

In spite of this, Panlilio said PLDT eyes to break into the internet-from-space market through partnerships the firm has signed with satellite operators. Smart in August tapped Washington-based Omnispace to explore how LEO satellites can deliver 5G services.

Last week, Data Lake, owned by billionaire Henry Sy Jr., entered into an agreement with Starlink to bring satellite broadband into the Philippines.

Starlink banks on its constellation of LEO units to beam internet to the surface, promising up to 200 Mbps in download speed and just 20 ms in latency for its $99 monthly service on top of the $599 cost for the satellite dish.

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