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A Short Guide to the Philippines’ Evolving Common Tower Policy

Among the new digital infrastructure initiatives that will roll out across the Philippines soon, one that’s worth looking out for is the building of more common towers. Common towers, or cell sites that allow co-sharing arrangements between separate telecommunications services, are not necessarily novel and are in fact now a critical component of many digital infrastructure networks overseas. In the Philippines, they are also set to transform the connectivity landscape.

What exactly is the common tower policy, and what improvements can Filipino customers expect from their mobile network service providers as a result? Here are some key considerations.

How Does the Philippines’ Common Tower Policy Work?

When looking at the benefits that common towers offer, the value proposition is immediate for telco companies. The co-sharing arrangements mean major savings for telco providers who would otherwise need to spend for their own towers. Thanks to their savings in terms of capital and operational expenditures, telcos can optimize their profits and funnel their resources into strengthening the reach and quality of their mobile services.

But the advantages of common tower infrastructure extend beyond the private sector. They’re also in line with the Philippine government’s plans to bolster the nation’s digital economy, especially in light of the economic crises brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) estimating that the country needs 50,000 more telco towers on top of the 20,000 already being controlled by PLDT and Globe Telecom to reach unserved or underserved areas. In 2020, DICT issued Department Circular No. 008, which contained specific policy guidelines for common towers.

Addressing the rising demand for cell tower infrastructure, particularly in unserved or underserved areas in the Philippines, DICT’s common tower policy guidelines include the following:

  • Registration guidelines for mobile network operators and other information and communications technology (ICT) providers
  • Provisions for telcos to co-locate equipment like antennas, receivers, radio frequency modules, and transmitters
  • Safeguards against predatory and anti-competitive business practices
  • Specifics on the agency’s oversight for common tower sharing agreements, charges and fee monitoring, and regulatory compliance

DICT’s Department Circular No. 008 was closely followed by Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 001 from the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), DICT, and partner agencies like the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). This joint memorandum aims to streamline processes and reduce delays for authorizations, business permits, and licenses associated with common towers and other forms of passive telecommunications tower infrastructures (PTTIs).

What emerges from the Philippines’ evolving common tower policy is a collective desire to increase activity from telco players and investors and therefore accommodate a rapidly digitalizing nation. On the government side, relevant agencies are currently committing to properly supporting and collaborating with the telco and ICT sectors, especially in terms of capacity building.

What Other Developments Have Come Out of the Philippines’ Digital Infrastructure and Telecommunications Sector?

The current government policies on common towers are meant to encourage a rise in investment activities and broad market-led development on the part of ICT providers. At the forefront of these efforts is Unity Digital Infrastructure, a joint venture between Aboitiz InfraCapital and the Swiss-based Partners Group, whose towers and other supporting infrastructure projects are set to bolster the services of the country’s mobile network operators and bring them on to par with their Southeast Asian counterparts.

In December of 2022, Unity Digital Infrastructure signed a sale and purchase agreement with the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) to acquire 650 telco towers across the Visayas and Mindanao regions to be part of its tower infrastructure portfolio. PLDT Enterprise is also looking to roll out a suite of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, called Internet of Possibilities (IoP), from its common towers.

Technology like this will allow both small business entrepreneurs and established corporate players in the Philippines to capitalize on fast and innovative internet solutions. By being able to digitalize their operations more extensively, these business entities stand to become more competitive at both the global and local levels.

It may be quite early in the game for the Philippines’ common tower infrastructure, but a study done by edotco, a Malaysian tower company, and Roland Berger, a management consultancy outfit, is optimistic about the country’s future growth. The study estimates that the Philippines’ use of common towers may become more widespread in the next couple of years—with the country likely to be home to more than 30,000 of these structures by 2025.

Takeaway: Who Truly Benefits from the Common Tower Building Boom?

In the end, the biggest beneficiaries of common tower infrastructure will be ordinary Filipinos. Strengthened services by mobile network operators and ISP providers will allow citizens to fulfill their everyday communication needs, have access to low-cost or free educational opportunities, earn a livelihood within the nation’s burgeoning digital economy, and stay up to date about what’s going on in the world.

Now that the Philippines has entered the digital age, and now that it’s dealing with the aftermath of the global COVID-19 crisis, there will be challenging times ahead. That said, better connectivity will strengthen Filipinos’ ties to the people and institutions that matter to them, and it will likely pave the way for better global competitiveness and general quality of life.

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