THE DITO Telecommunity’s 5G network would leave many Filipinos disenfranchised because only a limited number of smart phones are compatible with its network services, Democracy.net.ph, an information communication technology advocacy group, said.
It issued the warning during a recent Senate hearing on the renewal of the DITO’s franchise.
The Senate on March 24 approved on third and final reading the measure renewing for another 25 years the franchise of DITO Telecommunity, the country’s third telecommunication company (telco).
The group noted that a high percentage of Filipinos still use mobile phones that run on 2G or make use of less-advanced systems.
“This would therefore not work with a DITO SIM card that by default runs on 4G or 5G systems,” it said.
DITO had admitted that only a limited number of smart phones were compatible with its network services during its commercial launch on March 8.
DITO chief technology officer Rodolfo Santiago said that while other phones that were not on DITO’s short list may still work with the telco’s network, the company could not guarantee that users of other phone models would not experience technical problems as they were not tested for network compatibility.
“To protect the public, there may be technical issues that are unforeseen,” Santiago said.
Democracy.net.ph, which was tasked by the Senate public services committee to assess DITO’s commercial launch, questioned why the third telco chose to start its operations in the countryside where majority of consumers were not using smart phones.
“The feature phone market in the Philippines is still very high, especially used by classes D and E, or our kababayans (fellowmen) that run on 2G frequency. I’m surprised DITO Telecommunity restricted their list [of compatible phones],” said Pierre Galla, engineer and co-founder of Democracy.net.ph.
Galla said at least 60 percent of Filipinos continued to use so-called “legacy phones” such as older Nokia models.
Galla also reported deficiencies in DITO’s independent audit prior to its launch. He said that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) allowed the sampling of a smaller number of villages than previously required to determine if the telco could meet its first-year commitments.
Instead of testing over 8,800 villages, the NTC allowed the sampling of just 2,671. He said the field tests also covered 200 cell sites out of DITO’s 1,602 active sites.
“We recommend a sampling method should not be applied [for the next audit],” the group said.
This prompted Sen. Ana Theresia Hontiveros to demand that NTC respond to the reported deficiencies in DITO’s audit.
“The NTC should answer the questions raised by advocacy groups regarding its technical audit of DITO,” she said.
“If the agency will not be able to do so, it will only add to the public’s suspicion that it may be at the behest of the China-backed third telco,” the senator said.
Aware of the hurdles DITO faces, Smart Communications’ next generation technology solutions advisor Joachim Horn said that DITO would “take a long time to catch up.”
“As far as we have information in the areas DITO is launching, they cannot even get close to the coverage we have already,” said Horn at a recent media briefing.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Hontiveros voted “no” to the renewal of DITO’s franchise for national security reasons since it is 40 percent-owned by the Chinese government.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson abstained because DITO’s owner, Davao businessman Dennis Uy, is his godson.
DITO Telecommunity, formerly known as Mindanao Islamic Telephone Co. will undergo a second audit in July 2021.
It is expected to cover 84 percent of the population in five years.