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PHL to test satellite internet services this year

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To improve access to the internet in Filipinos’ homes, especially in rural areas, the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) is enabling international partners to conduct test deployments of their satellite internet services in the country this year.

These opportunities will eventually lead to technical and economic support for the local space ecosystem, according to Joel Joseph S. Marciano, Jr., director general of PhilSA.

“By working with various partners, we aim to address the digital divide through space science and technology applications (SSTA) as well as promote the local space industry,” he said on March 17, at a US Agency for International Development (USAID) webinar on how satellites can accelerate rural connectivity.

In October, PhilSA launched the Incentivise (Introducing Non-Geostationary Satellite Constellations Test Deployments to Improve Internet Service) program, which aims to bridge the digital divide in far-flung areas. Pilot testing will start this summer.

Alongside this are similar initiatives like USAID’s Better Access and Connectivity or Beacon project launched around the same time and the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) regional technical assistance project which will launch in the latter half of 2022.

“We have an ongoing open call for new satellite internet operators (SIO) to conduct test deployments in the country,” added Mr. Marciano. “PhilSA will facilitate this testing.”

The latest to answer this open call is London-based global communications network OneWeb, which plans to temporarily and non-commercially test their satellite broadband constellation. The timeline and proposed implementation sites have yet to be finalized.

Meanwhile, US-based aerospace and communications firm SpaceExploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) is also in talks with the government so it could establish a Philippine-registered subsidiary. SpaceX operates Starlink, a satellite broadband internet system that provides satellite internet access around the globe.

Both OneWeb and Starlink will be available in Southeast Asia by the end of the year.

WHY SATELLITE?
Arndt Husar, the senior public management specialist for digital transformation at ADB, said that satellite internet would be a good fit for a country like the Philippines.

“It is the least costly and least complex method to deliver broadband in sparsely populated areas,” he said at the webinar, in response to questions from BusinessWorld.

“Rapid deployment is possible, provided that satellites are operational and stable power supply is available on location. Its global capacity is increasing and its latency rivals fixed broadband,” he added.

However, it’s not without adoption challenges. Government institutions will have to look into the suitable network requirements (in terms of licenses, permits, and infrastructure), business models that will shape the pricing, and the market fit.

There’s also the issue of heavy rain and typhoons common in the Philippines, affecting reception from low-earth orbit satellites.

“You would need to keep your antenna (s) safe. Unplugging and storage [it] temporarily is an option (but it means that there will not be a connection), ”Mr. Husar explained. “For larger installations, other measures could be taken to protect the antennas.”

Both government and private telecommunications companies have beenworking in partnership to improve satellite internet services in the Philippines.

Department of Information and Communications and Technology (DICT) acting secretary Emmanuel Rey R. Caintic emphasized that only one in five households in the country have access to internet connection in the home.

“Through collaboration, it is our goal to provide effective and affordable internet for all Filipino citizens,” he said.

Executive Order 127, signed in March 2021, gave telco players and other businesses wider, direct access to all satellite systems, domestic and international. – Bronte H. Lacsamana

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