Free and fast Wi-Fi

Rainier Allan Ronda - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It will be free, and decently fast.

The Department of Science and Technology-Information Communications Technology Office (DOST-ICTO) will be making sure that Internet access to be provided under its Free Wi-Fi in public places will have decent speeds for users.

The DOST-ICTO, headed by Undersecretary Louis Napoleon Casambre, has set a target of 19 gbps of bandwidth in various sites to serve an estimated 105,000 concurrent users, or using the industry standard of about 20:1 (40:1 in some cases), about  two million online users once the Free Wi Fi in Public Spaces project is fully rolled out within the year.

“The international and domestic bandwidth required, assuming a conservative 30 percent cache ratio, will be about 20 gbps and 15 gbps, respectively,” DOST-ICTO spokesman Roy Espiritu said.

It was learned that the Philippines’ average connection speed is a poor 2.1 mbps, with slightly above eight percent of users enjoying connection speeds faster than 4mbps.

The country also has a modest 52-percent Internet penetration rate, which is already a big improvement from figures four years ago, having almost doubled already since 2010, during which the penetration rate was at 27 percent.

It will be recalled that from the P339 million budget proposed by the DOST for the project last year, the Senate had boosted the funding to a whopping P3 billion in their deliberations on the DOST budget late last year. DOST-ICTO sources, however, said that the budget has somehow been adjusted from P3 billion to P1.4 billion.

Despite the reduction, the DOST ICTO said that they can still expand the coverage from the initial target coverage of 4th to 6th class municipalities in the country to also include third class municipalities, with various sites in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao as well as other cities having distribution points of presence.

Casambre had earlier said the expansion of the effort to make free Internet accessible to the countryside was seen to jumpstart economic development with the benefits of electronic or e-commerce, e-learning and e-government being brought to previously underserved, or underved communities in the countryside and in other isolated island municipalities.

Casambre said that this can increase their incomes and push their economic status upwards across the nation, especially those belonging in the countryside, helping greatly towards inclusive growth.

Casambre also added that most of the countryside is in a “vicious cycle”, where most citizens are unable to afford broadband Internet, giving little to no incentive for private sector Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to invest in the necessary network infrastructure for lack of an acceptable return on investment.

This leads to lack of opportunity in reaping the benefits that Internet connectivity has proven to bring, he pointed out.

Internet connectivity and Wi-Fi hotspots in most municipalities for the project will be sourced from the country’s ISP, while in areas that do not have broadband connectivity and infrastructure, the DOST ICT Office intends to use TV White Space (TVWS) technologies, which were used to provide last-mile connectivity in areas affected by the Bohol earthquake and typhoon Yolanda. 

The DOST and ICTO had started last year  a program to promote rural impact sourcing, a sub-sector of the IT-Business Process Management industry where individuals in countryside areas can also offer freelance minor business process outsourcing jobs to individuals and companies abroad.

The DOST-ICTO, in partnership with Filipino-Singaporean firm Nityo Infotech, has successfully conducted a pilot test of TVWS technology, which taps into unused TV broadcast frequencies to provide broadband Internet connectivity to target areas. The pilot areas for the program are Palo and Tacloban City in Leyte; and Tubigon, Bohol – in localities that were hard-hit by calamities last year.

TVWS refers to the vacant frequencies located between broadcast TV channels, which can be used to provide wireless data connectivity to remote communities in the country.

Originally, the project was designed to cover only town plazas of a total of 748 Class 4, 5 and 6 municipalities, with an original budget of P334 million proposed by the DOST.

World Bank studies have shown that every 10-percent increase in broadband connectivity results in a 1.38-percent increase in the gross domestic product.











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