US extends grant to PH telco firm for 5G project | Inquirer Technology

US extends grant to PH telco company for 5G project, study

/ 02:51 AM January 22, 2023
Daniel Kritenbrink. STORY: US extends grant to PH telco company for 5G project, study

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink (Photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — The US government has given a local telco company a P118-million grant to be used for a pilot project and feasibility study aimed at developing a “reliable and secure” 5G network in the country.

The technical assistance extended by the US Trade and Development Agency to NOW Telecom was formalized during the recent Philippine visit of US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink.

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“Filipinos can and should be secure online. Securing against malicious cyber activities is difficult even in the best of times, but it is infinitely more difficult when the risk comes from the entity that built and may maintain access to a telecommunications network,” Kritenbrink said during the signing of the grant documents with officials of NOW Telecom and the Department of Foreign Affairs on Jan. 20.

According to the US Embassy, the grant will establish a 5G pilot network at multiple sites in the National Capital Region, which will be used to evaluate network performance, test cases of 5G usage and gather data for a larger deployment.

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The agreement was one of the deals finalized during the visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris to the country in November last year.

Unsuccessful bid

Kritenbrink said the grant was further proof of Washington’s commitment to a longtime ally not just on matters of security but also in economic development. US-Philippine relations, he said, have been on “hyperdrive.’’

For the study, NOW Telecom is tapping the New Jersey-based Bells Labs Consulting, a part of Bell Labs, the research arm of Nokia, the embassy said in a statement.

Formerly known as Infocom Communications Network Inc., NOW Telco was one of the companies that aspired to be the third major telecommunications service provider in the country—after Smart and Globe—but lost in the bidding for the slot in 2018.

That same year, the company secured an extension of its congressional franchise to build and operate a telecommunications network until 2043.

In 2019, it announced its entry into the 5G market, promising users internet speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second.

Complaint at NTC

The NOW Group is headed by its founder and chair Mel Velarde, with Francis Xavier Manglapus as vice chair.In 2022, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) received a complaint against NOW Telecom accusing the company of having “miserably failed to provide internet service in [the complainants’] locality despite enjoying the radio frequency assigned to it by the state.”

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The complaint, signed by three taxpayers from Pangasinan province, asked the NTC to recall the frequencies assigned to NOW Telecom and impose sanctions on the company.

In April 2022, the NTC was sued by Emerald Investments, Inc., a NOW shareholder, at the Commission on Elections for conducting a hearing on the complaint during an election period.

Low regional ranking

Emerald Investments argued that the NTC hearing violated Section 6.4 of the Fair Elections Act, which prohibits the cancellation or suspension of a legislative franchise during such period.

The Philippines remains a laggard in terms of internet download and upload speeds in the Asia-Pacific region.

Based on an August 2022 study by independent analytics company OpenSignal, Metro Manila placed eighth in 5G download speed—at 150.7 megabits per second (Mbps)—out of the 11 cities.

Seoul and Kuala Lumpur topped the list with download speeds of 453.1 Mbps and 376.6 Mbps, respectively.

As for 5G upload speed, Metro Manila ranked 10th with 14.4 Mbps.

In terms of 5G video experience, the capital region scored 71.6, placing it on the 8th spot.

It ranked last in 5G games experience, with a score of 66.6.

—WITH A REPORT FROM TYRONE JASPER C. PIAD

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TOPICS: 5G project, Daniel Kritenbrink, NOW Telecom, US Trade and Development Agency
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