Here we are again with the Duterte administration giving us hope that our broadband problems will soon be resolved. First, it was the entry of the third telco to compete with the existing duopoly. Now it’s Starlink.
Commerce Secretary Ramon Lopez announced last week the planned entry of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) in the country, to provide Internet services here. Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite internet system that is capable of delivering internet speeds of 150 Mbps in theory to any location on the planet. All the customer needs is a clear view of the sky and the antenna.
SpaceX is a technology company of entrepreneur Elon Musk, also known for Tesla and the Hyperloop. In the fall of 2020, the system began serving its first users.
SpaceX’s system improves on existing technology by using low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that circle the planet just about 300 miles above the surface. The shorter distance dramatically improves internet speeds while reducing latency.
The SpaceX constellation consists of more than 1,600 satellites as of mid-2021. Thousands more of these small satellites will soon be in orbit. The satellites communicate with designated ground transceivers.
The promise, according to our chief commercial officer, is that SpaceX/Starlink will enable much faster broadband speeds, better connectivity, more capacity for telecommunications services and more affordable rates for consumers.
Secretary Lopez credited the recent signing of the amended Public Service Act (PSA), which allows up to 100% foreign ownership of public services in the country, for SpaceX’s decision to invest here.
The company is in the process of establishing a local Philippine entity which will be its wholly owned subsidiary. The Philippines should be the first in Southeast Asia to benefit from this exclusive technology.
The service uses terminals that look like satellite dishes equipped with antennas and are usually mounted on roofs to access the Internet via satellite. People can purchase the service online for $99 per month, plus $499 for equipment. Hopefully they will have affordable third world prices.
According to Google, Starlink is currently designed to be a non-mobile internet provider. Its satellite dishes are supposed to be fixed and provide internet to homes and businesses. You can connect to your Starlink network using your cell phone, but only over wifi and near your router.
Starlink recently made headlines after providing continuous internet service to war-torn Ukraine. It provides the world with the lifeline of beleaguered Ukrainians after the Russians bombed cellphone towers.
The use of Starlink in Ukraine is a major test of relatively new technology that could have far-reaching implications for the future of warfare. The internet has become an essential tool for communicating, staying informed and even fueling weapons, reports the Washington Post.
Starlink technology is used by civilians in attacked areas who have lost internet service, and by government officials. The Times of London reports that a Ukrainian unit is using Starlink to connect its drones to attack Russian forces.
Too good to be true for harassed Pinoys who make do with slow and unreliable internet service, especially in remote areas. The Batanes, for example, can really benefit from this technology and should be prioritized.
But how will Starlink enter our market? Aren’t there enough regulatory hurdles to stop it?
I spoke with a telecommunications analyst and was told that Starlink can use both the PSA amendment and EO 127. Under EO 127, Starlink can register as a provider or operator of satellite services (SSPO) with the DICT and as a value-added service (VAS) provider with the NTC.
This arrangement would allow Starlink to obtain bandwidth from its own satellites (as SSPO) and sell Internet services directly to end users (as VAS provider). Under EO 127, an SSPO can sell directly to an ISP and VAS provider, without the need for a franchise. Under the PSA amendment, both a telco and a VAS provider are exempt from the nationality requirement.
Indeed, there are reports that after the PSA amendments were passed, Starlink abandoned the idea of having a joint venture with Converge through a 60-40 stake where the latter effectively acts as a subsidiary. of Starlink in the Philippines. The nature of the deal changed to Converge leasing its fiber lines and other ground support equipment to Starlink Philippines. Starlink will launch its commercial operations in 2023.
Starlink’s entry means that PLDT and Globe will have to match its technology. Someone in one of my Viber groups provided the information that in response to Starlink’s entry, PLDT and Smart signed a memorandum of understanding with US company AST SpaceMobile Inc, builder of the first cellular network space-based broadband accessible directly by standard mobile phones.
I emailed Al Panlilio, President of PLDT, and he confirmed that they were talking to “various satellite vendors or operators to explore opportunities to provide connectivity solutions to remote and remote locations, in particularly areas that are underserved and not served by terrestrial networks”.
I also asked Globe and was told they have an ongoing partnership with Curvanet, also a satellite solution that can provide high speed connectivity to any device or handset with WiFi. Globe said they’re still in test mode and don’t have any commercial rollout plans yet… so no price indicators either.
But will SpaceX have any problems once it gains widespread acceptance? Will the NTC allow a 100% foreign-owned company to use the spectrum?
It can be argued that the PSA changes implicitly amended Commonwealth Act 3846 (the Radio Control Act of 1931). Since the PSA amendments removed the nationality requirement for duly enfranchised telecommunications operators, it makes sense that Sec. 4 of law 3846 is implicitly modified.
Also, under the PSA changes, a “VAS provider”, such as an ISP, is not considered telecommunications and therefore not subject to the same requirements (Congressional franchise and CPCN) as a telecommunications operator.
Interesting days ahead. This is how the Duterte administration can redeem itself from the “failure” of its third telecommunications promise to improve broadband services with the entry of DITO, a partnership of Duterte’s crony with China Telecom.
Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco