The mobile network coverage in the country, currently offered by a telecommunications duopoly, has expanded widely through the years to reach even remote areas. However, due to limitations in infrastructure (such as insufficient number of cell towers), mobile signal remains unavailable in some areas especially in the Mindanao (one of the major island groups) countryside. The existing telecommunications companies blamed this infrastructure problem for the inconsistent quality of the mobile signal and internet.
Late last year, the government organised a public consultation for the draft of the first ever ‘common cell tower’ policy of the country, which includes the measure ‘to remove all future cell tower building activities from incumbents PLDT, Inc. and Globe Telecom, Inc.’ as a way to fastrack the roll-out of cell towers, as well as requiring the telecommunications companies to share their cell tower assets (Camus, 2018c). The number of cell sites operates by PLDT and Globe total to about 16,000, a mile less than those of neighboring countries like Vietnam with 70,000 towers and Indonesia with 90,000 (Camus, 2018c). However, the consultation became a protracted, thorny debate among stakeholders and possibilities of a legal row came to the fore.
Based on real-time data from nPerf, an online application company that churns out geo-localized statistics on internet connection, many areas in Visayas and Mindanao, particularly the coastal areas, do not have consistent mobile signal. 4G connectivity is still heavily concentrated in urban Luzon, while most areas with mobile signal coverage only have 3G. This data is congruent with the 2018 report of mobile research firm Opensignal, which found that 4G connectivity in the country is ‘hard to find’ and is offered in a much lesser extent than it is in other countries. However, according to the latest report of Opensignal (Fitchard, 2019), 4G connectivity in the country has improved ‘dramatically’ as LTE users can now access LTE connection more than 70 percent of the time. Opensignal (Fitchard, 2019) wrote that the improvements are more likely driven by the ‘competitive pressure’ brought by the launching of Dito Telecommunity, the third telecommunications player.
Interestingly, there are studies that documented the pervasiveness of mobile phone usage even among indigenous communities in rural areas such as the Applai and Bontok Igorot communities in the Cordillera mountain range (Zapata, 2016). The use of mobile phones in such areas are largely influenced by the ‘indigenous social code’ (p.1) and is limited to 2G-based information dissemination (e.g. sharing news or announcements to the community). Most of the respondents in the study received their phones from more affluent relatives living in the city and many households share a unit because of the cost.