US firm BridgeComm considers PHL entry to support 5G rollout

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

BRIDGECOMM, Inc., a US-based optical wireless communications solutions provider, is in talks with a Philippine telecommunications firm to provide support for the ongoing rollout of 5G connectivity in the country.

“We are working with somebody — it’s not disclosed yet — for 5G,” BridgeComm Chief Executive Officer Barry Matsumori told BusinessWorld in a recent virtual interview.

The optical wireless communications system or communications, primarily via lasers, can fill critical gaps in the 5G ecosystem, where the RF (radio frequency) technology and optic cabling are often unable to deliver end-to-end 5G, he said.

“So this is not RF. The predominant technology to be used for radio, for mobile communications is RF. Let’s separate the various parts of it. There’s from the radio head or the cell tower to the end user, but then there is infrastructure going from the internet out to the cell tower. We’re addressing that infrastructure side,” Mr. Matsumori explained.

He added there are a couple of “different challenges” for 5G in the Philippines, which is an archipelago.

“It’s quite unique because the Philippines does have large metropolitan areas like Metro Manila. But the Philippines also consists of a large number of islands, and those islands are separated by water, connecting them with lots of cable is actually quite difficult, quite unaffordable. And doing that over RF presents a different problem. And that problem is the lack of RF spectrum capacity and the lack of speed,” he said.

He said the same problems exist in places with bodies of water separating cell towers, including the United States, “where the density of cell towers doesn’t allow that much fiber to be put down.”

In a phone message, former Undersecretary Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. of the Department of Information and Communications Technology said, “Optical wireless is not yet extensively used here. It is not for mobile use, but for fixed stations. It is a line of sight and any structures like buildings, trees or hills can block it. Also, in a rainy country like the Philippines, the signal deteriorates with heavy rainfall.”

Globe Telecom, Inc., in partnership with Huawei Technologies Co Ltd., launched its 5G broadband service in June last year, the first in Southeast Asia.

Globe’s 5G service is currently available in Bonifacio Global City, Makati, and Ortigas, among others.

PLDT Inc.’s wireless arm Smart Communications, Inc. started to make its 5G service commercially available in July this year, particularly in Araneta City, SM Megamall, Mall of Asia bay area, and the central business districts of Makati and Bonifacio Global City.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.

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