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Bolstering digital byways in the new normal

Ehda Dagooc (The Freeman) - October 16, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  The COVID-19 situation has undeniably called for changes in practically every aspect of society – cascading shifts in how work and play, how we dress up and dress down, how we eat, pray and love.

But as change-inducing as the conditions brought about by the pandemic are, the brunt of its blows have been softened by the conscientious use and availability of technology.

From arming work-from-home setups with cloud-accessible tools to making mixed learning modes more intuitive through online-accessible learning management systems, things which were thought to be impossible then have become possible now, thanks to ongoing developments in the greater internet-of-things sphere.

As Cebu joins cities all over the world in brokering new normal possibilities with tech, we look into how the country’s leading internet service providers are streamlining online options in the midst of the COVID-19 situation – how they are bolstering digital byways in the new normal phase.

PLDT and Smart: Defying the predictable

In a time when gatherings are largely perceived to hazardous owing to COVID-19 transmission risks, the “online option” has enabled many to still get things done even with movement restrictions meant to curb the spread of the disease.

From facilitating online shopping excursions to broadening cloud-based collaborations among workers and offices, PLDT Inc. and its subsidiary Smart Communications Inc., have broadened their horizons to be more than just an internet service provider that connects customers to online services.

PLDT is also working tirelessly to expand its fiber optic coverage in major cities around the country, including Cebu.

PLDT’s 2020 capex is expected to reach P70 billion despite the slowdown in network rollout due to the quarantine controls imposed in the second quarter of this year. This capex program enabled PLDT and Smart to build the digital infrastructure needed to support the deployment first of 4G/LTE and 5G. This involved, first of all, the deployment of an extensive fiber network.

Late last month, Smart proudly announced the rollout of its commercial 5G service to key cities in the Visayas and Mindanao regions – a move which primes it as the first telco in the country to launch 5G services nationwide.

The rollout takes after the firm’s initial commercial 5G service launch in the Metro Manila region in July, and stands as a testament to the telco group’s commitment to offer the best of available internet connectivity options.

The 5G rollout is complemented by the expanded deployment of Smart’s LTE network and expansion of PLDT’s fiber infrastructure.

As Smart president and CEO and PLDT Chief Revenue Officer Alfredo Panlilio puts it, the development puts the telco in a better position to provide “customers with the widest range of powerful connectivity services as the country’s only fully integrated telco and digital services provider.”

To date, Smart’s high-speed broadband service serves 95% of the country’s population, and supporting Smart’s mobile network is PLDT’s fiber infrastructure, which is noted to be the most extensive in the country at 360,000 kilometers.

Shorn of offering cutting edge internet connectivity options, the firm has also seen to the inception of various programs, projects and initiatives.

Among the most recent would be the formation of a cybersecurity council aimed to protect organizations that are part of the MVP Group of Companies, which PLDT and Smart are a part of.

“The formation of this Cybersecurity Council highlights our group’s commitment to ensure that our services – and in turn, our customers – are safe from cyber threats, and that effective, enterprise-grade cybersecurity solutions are available to safeguard the data of our customers across the group,” shares PLDT chairman and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan on the council’s recent formation.

The council is the first of its caliber to be formed by a Philippine conglomerate, and is set on working closely with the government and with the Department of Information and Communications Technology in cultivating awareness of cybersecurity issues, marks and concerns.

Smart has also worked with various government agencies and organizations to better address new normal concerns.

Early this month, the telco announced that resource materials under the Central Visayan Institute Foundation - Dynamic Learning Program (CVIF-DLP) can be downloaded for free from DepEd Commons at www.commons.deped.gov.ph.

Smart, through the PLDT-Smart Foundation, has been supporting CVIF for over a decade, and the CVIF-DLP is one of three supplemental learning materials being endorsed by DepEd for this school year. Since July, the organization has also been spearheading CVIF-DLP virtual workshops for DepEd Divisions in a bid to ensure that no learner would be left behind in education’s new normal.

Smart has also partnered with organizations that hold ties with the tourism sector in developing innovations that’re geared to address new normal concerns.

The “Panaw sa Pagtuo” virtual exhibit application would be one example.

Developed in partnership with the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and the homegrown InnoPub Media firm, the suite (which is accessible via panawsapagtuo.com) facilitates digital walkthroughs of some of Cebu’s heritage churches and historical landmarks like Magellan’s Cross.

Among the notable “sights” that can be virtually viewed through the app would be the ceiling paintings of the Church of our Lady of the Pillar in Sibonga, works which were done by the renowned artist Raymundo Francia in the 1920s.

At the onset of the global COVID-19 health crisis in March, the idea that livestream would go mainstream and takeout would be the new way out began to take root.

In more ways than one, PLDT and Smart have made such predictions a reality for many – coupling the virtue of empathy and adaptability in the way it bolsters digital byways in the new normal phase.

Globe Telecom fibers up key areas

Ayala-led Globe Telecom increased its fiber rollouts by 51.4 percent as of August 2020, in order to address the gaps on the country’s home broadband internet connectivity.

Fiber connectivity provides a faster and more stable internet experience.

Globe put up additional fiberized lines on key locations including Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Batangas, Cebu and Davao del Sur.  

Globe started encouraging its customers to move to fiber connections, free of charge.

In the Visayas, fiber roll outs are highest in Cebu, while Davao Del Sur has been the recipient of aggressive builds in Mindanao. These efforts were made despite the challenges of more than seven months of varying quarantine protocols brought by the COVID-19 pandemic all over the country.

“We are complementing our aggressive mobile network upgrades with similar determination when it comes to our fiber to home efforts. In highly urbanized areas, where it is a challenge to build more cell towers, fiber will be key in giving our customers better internet experience as we move towards becoming a truly digital nation,” said Joel Agustin, Globe Senior Vice President for Program Delivery, Network Technical Group.

Expanding its fiber footprint to penetrate homes and residential areas will fill the gap on home broadband access, vowed Agustin, adding “this will definitely improve experience now that more Filipino households rely on the internet for their work, education, entertainment and other essential needs.”

Compared to the obsolete copper cables, fiber optic internet sends data faster, at much higher bandwidths. It is delivered on a dedicated line, which facilitates a more consistent experience. It is also immune to many of the conditions that copper cables are susceptible to. Moreover, fiber optic internet is less likely to have service disruptions.

Accelerating fiber rollout to homes is part of the 3-pronged strategy of Globe to improve data experience and network performance. The ramp up of fiberization efforts will be done progressively until 2021.  - Yasunari Ramon Suarez Taguchi

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