Smart speeds up tower rollout after permits released

Smart speeds up tower rollout after permits released

MANILA, Philippines — After coronavirus lockdowns stalled network expansion plans, Smart Communications Inc. said Tuesday it is now speeding up its nationwide tower rollout, thanks to the government's move to reduce excessive red-tape.

In a statement on Tuesday, PLDT Inc., Smart's parent firm, said 34 permits needed in building cell towers were recently released by local government units.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered LGUs to speed up the processing of telcos' applications in August, Smart said it has bagged a total of 211 building and pre-construction permits in Metro Manila and other provinces in the country. Once completed, the company hopes to fire up 5G connections in other parts of the country.

“The initiative of government to make it easier for us to build more towers quicker will be a big help in terms of improving coverage,”  Alfredo Panlilio, company president and chief executive, said.

At his penultimate State of the Nation Address, Duterte blasted incumbents Globe Telecom Inc. and PLDT for their supposed poor service and threatened to seize their assets if they don't shape up. The firebrand leader later redirected his anger toward LGUs after finding out that they had been slow in processing telcos' applications for permits.

From the previous average of 241 days, the Department of Interior and Local Government reduced the processing time to an average of 16 days. To do this, some licenses are no longer required.

The reform immediately produced successful results. Last week, Globe said it secured 190 permits from 85 LGUs in August, of which 37 were given "in record time." 

Incoming third player Dito Telecommunity, for its part, said it is on-track to meet its target to finish building 1,300 cell sites — the number of towers needed to meet regulatory requirements — by October this year. But Dito was also forced to push back by another six months its technical launch supposedly held early July after failing to build the required number of cell sites.

For PLDT, less bureaucratic constraints and the easing of coronavirus lockdowns mean it can now catch up on its investment plans. Apart from building around 1,000 to 1,500 towers annually, Panlilio said Smart also needs to beef up its other telco infrastructure to expand its coverage. To do that, its parent PLDT hiked its target capital expenditures back to about P70 billion for this year.

“Towers are just one element in the mobile network infrastructure of PLDT, and we have both fixed and mobile infrastructures," Panlilio said.

"We have about 10,000 macro and micro-cellsites and more than 20,000 LTE base stations scattered across the country. Aside from towers, we need an extensive fiber optic network and we currently have at least 360,000 kilometers of fiber optic network," he added.