Five to take on Philippines’ telecoms duo?

1 Dec 2016

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has confirmed that no fewer than five firms have expressed an interest in bidding for the frequencies it intends to auction in 2017, with each vying to become a credible third operator to challenge the might of de facto duopoly PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom. NTC commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba publicly declared two of the interested parties – Mel Velarde’s NOW Telecom and local businessman Dennis Uy’s Converge ICT Solutions – but declined to name the other three, who he said were represented by their legal counsel.

NOW Telecom holds a cellular mobile telephone services (CMTS) licence, issued in 2006, and has reportedly allocated up to PHP2 billion (USD40.2 million) to roll out the first 300 base stations if it is successful next year. It is also looking to find an international partner to help develop its business, which currently comprises cable, broadband and IT services for corporate clients in Metro Manila – although it plans to expand to Southern Luzon, Davao, and Cebu and set aside USD30 million in FY2016 for broadband. Meanwhile, Dennis Yu’s firm is offering broadband services to residential, SME and enterprises clients, but has been more tight-lipped on its mobile aspirations.

As previously reported by CommsUpdate, earlier this month NTC confirmed it will auction off radio spectrum relinquished by PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom in a bid to establish a new third player in the local mobile market. Cordoba said at the time that the terms of the reference and bidding are being thrashed out, noting: ‘We will try to finish [the terms of reference by the middle] of next year.’ Further, Cordoba suggested that the government would look to auction off blocks of spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2500MHz-2700MHz and 3400MHz-3500MHz bands that were returned by PLDT and Globe, including the 3G frequencies of the former Connectivity Unlimited Resources Enterprise (CURE) business.

In October this year Cordoba discussed the plan to sell a ‘full set’ of 3G and 4G spectrum, suggesting that companies already holding frequencies would be barred from the process – i.e. limiting it to new players – although he noted that several factors would need to be ironed out before the tender could go ahead. Crucially, the NTC needs to resolve the legal dispute between the anti-monopoly body, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), and incumbent operators Globe and PLDT over the telcos’ joint acquisition of the telecoms assets of San Miguel Corp (SMC) in May this year. The outcome of the case could involve the final ownership of mobile frequencies, including 20MHz of much-coveted 700MHz spectrum, which PLDT and Globe contend are theirs. The final terms of the auction need to be sanctioned by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).