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Connecting every Filipino: How common towers will transform the Philippine countryside

Blogs & Features

February 13, 2023

telecommunication tower
Telecommunication tower with beautiful sky

While still not comparable to internet speeds in neighboring countries, Filipinos who live in major urban centers like Metro Manila or Metro Cebu more or less have adequate mobile internet coverage. So long as there isn’t currently a problem with one’s fiber connection or there isn’t a building directly blocking a cell tower’s line of sight to one’s device, chances are one has a decent internet connection. 

Outside of these major urban centers, however, adequate and reliable coverage remains to be a challenge. Just go a few kilometers outside of a major city or town, and you will experience an unstable internet connection.

One of the key solutions being implemented to remedy this situation is shared towers, more often known locally as “common towers.” It is telecommunication assets like this that Unity Digital Infrastructure, a joint venture project of Aboitiz InfraCapital and Partners Group, is building to support and expand digital infrastructure and improve connectivity across the Philippines. Under the common tower business model, mobile network operators can co-locate on Unity’s tower assets to expedite their expansion, increase their network’s service reliability, reduce costs, and lessen redundant sites.

What are common towers?

Antennas for data transmission need to be located high up to provide the widest possible coverage and to prevent obstacles like buildings from impeding the signal. By setting up antennas on tall buildings or purpose-built towers, service providers can ensure optimal operating conditions for the antenna, allowing it more reliable services to more devices.

Before the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) rolled out the Common Tower Policy, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) were responsible for building communications towers on which to set their antennas and other transmission devices. 

Building towers can be expensive, thus, there was an incentive to only build towers where the population density was highest, which meant service could be spotty or nonexistent in rural areas. 

Unlike conventional towers, common towers are intended to be shared by multiple MNOs. They could also be built and operated by independent providers, who may have more incentive to build them where there is inadequate coverage.

What led to the common tower policy?


The DICT has already been pushing for common towers for years, but this call received a major boost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, the global health crisis has highlighted the country’s need for better internet speed.

To avert further damage to the economy from unreliable internet connections, the national government through the DICT fast-tracked the creation of unified common tower guidelines through Department Circular No. 8, s. 2020: Policy Guidelines on the Co-Location and Sharing of Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructure for Macro Cell Sites, better known as the Common Tower Policy.

What are the benefits of common towers?

The Common Tower Policy is expected to be a win-win for telecom providers and the Filipinos.

Some of the expected benefits include:

1. Increased coverage

DICT’s Common Tower Policy incentivizes MNOs to set up more antennas in places that were previously considered less feasible, namely rural areas with low population densities. This increased coverage can be key to improving the living standards of millions of Filipinos by giving them access to critical services, better economic opportunities, and even exposure to global markets.

DICT’s Common Tower Policy incentivizes MNOs to set up more antennas in places that were previously considered less feasible, namely rural areas with low population densities. This increased coverage can be key to improving the living standards of millions of Filipinos by giving them access to critical services, better economic opportunities, and even exposure to global markets.

2. Reduced setup costs

The cost of using common towers is shared by multiple MNOs. Potentially, this can make renting space on an independently owned common tower more financially feasible than building one. Alternatively, an MNO can offset the cost of building a tower, as other MNOs will be allowed under the Common Tower Policy to use it for a fee. 

3. Better reliability

The incentives created by the common tower system can encourage better network redundancy in areas that are currently underserved. Service level agreements with common tower operators may also serve to improve uptimes.

4. Better utilization of assets

Towers can often accommodate more antennas than are typically attached to them. With DICT’s Common Tower Policy in place, towers and other related assets can be utilized more efficiently, bringing down the cost to serve a specific area.

5. Better service in far-flung areas

Firms like Aboitiz InfraCapital specialize in the construction of these types of specialized digital infrastructure. As a result of scale and specialization, the cost per tower can go down significantly, which makes building common towers in rural areas more feasible. At the same time, the lower cost to MNOs can encourage them to serve areas that were previously underserved because of low population densities.

What is the future of the common tower model?

Common towers are seen to persist in some form for the foreseeable future. Succeeding administrations are likely to build on the success of the current common tower policy, which has been partly credited with dramatically improving the availability and reliability of Philippine internet connections during the pandemic.

Even with all the gains made, there is still plenty left to do, and the Philippines still lags behind its neighbors in the density of cell sites. Through Unity Digital Infrastructure, Aboitiz InfraCapital and its collaborator, Swiss-based Partners Group, will continue building common towers to help businesses grow and uplift the lives of Filipinos.

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