Deflecting Chinese espionage fears, Uy-led Dito sets sights on 2021 start
Telecommunications startup Dito Telecommunity is bent on meeting its launch target in 2021 while it fends off espionage concerns over strategic partner China Telecom, a state-owned company.
During a media briefing on Thursday, Dito gave assurances it would meet the new technical audit deadline by January next year, placing it on track to launch a rival telco service and challenge incumbents PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom by March 2021.
Dito announced the completion of 859 cell sites as of Sept. 13 this year. By next month, the company would be finishing 1,300 sites, allowing it to meet the initial population coverage of 37 percent.
Its network capabilities would then be validated by the government and an independent auditor in Jan. 2021—the new deadline after Dito won a six-month extension last July 8, citing delays from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Based on that figure, we will be more than ready for our technical audit,” Dito chief technology officer Rodolfo Santiago said during the media briefing. He said the company also planned to end this year with over 2,000 cell sites. Apart from wireless infrastructure, Dito has completed 5,701 kilometers of internet cables.
Dito, backed by Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy and state-owned China Telecom, released new updates while dismissing concerns its network would become a spying tool for China.The worries come amid the Duterte administration’s warm embrace of Beijing despite Chinese encroachment in the West Philippine Sea.
According to Dito chief administrative officer Adel Tamano, the company is Filipino-controlled with Uy’s group owning a 60-percent stake and the remainder held by foreigners.
This is in line with the limit set by the Philippine Constitution. However, Congress is seeking to tweak this to allow foreigners to take 100-percent ownership in select industries, including telecommunications.
Tamano said he was not aware of any plans for China Telecom, which provides technological expertise and investments to the venture, to eventually increase its stake.“There is no truth when people say Dito is a Chinese company,” Tamano said.
Citing China Telecom’s advanced technology, especially in the area of 5G, the next-generation mobile standard, Tamano said its entry into the Philippines was a “bright spot for our country and economy.”
Renewed worries came on the back of a deal signed between Dito and the Philippine government to build telco equipment inside military camps, just as PLDT and Globe had done.
But Dito officials said they were subjected to more stringent requirements and, unlike their rivals, would pay the government in cash for using their land.
Santiago added the Armed Forces of the Philippines would bar the entry of non-Filipinos inside the camps and also has the right to rescind the agreement if risks to national security emerge.
Dito earlier announced it would hire United States cybersecurity firm Fortinet as its primary cybersecurity provider.
Tamano said the company was spending P1 billion for 2020 on cybersecurity as part of its P150-billion committed spending in its first year.
The selection of Dito is part of the Duterte administration’s goal to increase competition in telecommunications. It was also the first telco to be subjected to strict performance standards.
If it repeatedly fails to meet these commitments, the national government would seize its P25.7-billion performance bond and recall its assigned radio frequencies.
Under the five-year commitment period, the company would cover up to 84 percent of the population and offer a minimum average internet speed of 55 megabits per second.
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