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By Ed C. Perpeqa

Not Just a Glitch August 11, 2000

SOME years back, while I was doing a research on what appeared then as the largest fraud that hit the countrys cell phone companies, I sought the expert opinion of then Rep. Jerome Paras of Negros Oriental, who chaired the House Committee on Transportation and Communications, on how Congress could help deter cell phone fraud.

In the course of our discussion, however, Paras stressed the technical aspect of improving cellular phone services. He even hinted that some cell phone companies were overloading their circuits, which meant they accepted more subscriptions than they could actually serve. It is very difficult to connect calls if their cells are overloaded and, still, they are requiring their subscribers to pay for drop calls and incomplete calls, Paras said.

The local telecommunications landscape has changed since then, but the problems that emerged six or seven years ago are still the same problems besetting the industry in the digital age. Some calls cannot get through, others are dropped, and even prepaid calls are overcharged. Given a situation of service disruption, cell phone firms are quick to blame it on a technical glitch subscribers never understand.

Worse, the National Telecommunications Commission, the agency that regulates these companies, is dragging its feet over this apparent inefficiency.

But is there really an overloading of circuits, as many claim there is?

Globe Telecom, for example, experienced a network failure recently but it refused the suggestion that oversubscription or congestion had caused its network to fail. It insisted the incident that gave rise to service disruption was outside (its) control but was a result of an unexpected software failure in the course of a routine system upgrade conducted by Nokia Philippines which runs the prepaid service. Globe said it engaged Nokia on a full turnkey basis, implying it had no participation at all in the system upgrade.

A service disruption is certainly not the scenario Globe Telecom saw four months ago. At that time, it tacitly recognized the presence of congestion problem and stressed it would tackle it to pave the way for its WAP (wireless application protocol) development. No less than its chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala II assured that Globe, with its definitive merger with Islacom, would have 10 MHz frequency in addition to its present frequency on the 900 and the 1,800 frequency band. Congestion is very much at the top of our concerns, he said.

Zobels pronouncement was a tacit admission that Globes widening subscriber base (it consists of about a third of total mobile phone users) was wrenching its network capacity. Too much traffic volume, as one of its executives later said, hindered the full boom of WAP development in the country.

Certainly, Globe Telecom is not the only company that is troubled by congestion problem. The other day, a friend of mine wanted to test her Smart Communications cell phone and rang another unit of hers, also a Smart, which was just a few feet nearby. She could not register any contact with her cell unit. Another friend, whose cell phone rode high on Smart systems, sent a text message to his staff to run an errand for him that very day but was dismayed to find out the message was received the following day.

I am certain my experience with Piltels analog system was no different from those of my friends. I stopped subscribing to its cell phone services but I am now in the process of collating the toll details of the calls I made through this system so I can pinpoint all the incomplete and dropped calls that I paid in full.

Inefficiency has apparently caught up with cell phone companies trying to outrun one another in terms of subscription. But if these firms still attribute this inefficiency to anything but oversubscription, there is only one way of finding out: an utmost diligent technical audit of these firms to be conducted by an independent, technically competent group.

I am sure any cell phone firm will immediately reject this idea or, for that matter, any oblique reference to the limitations inherent in its network system. But the technical audit is very important. The particular thing cell phone subscribers want to know is whether the firms the NTC allows to operate can still meet their communication needs.(

-- (, August 11, 2000

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