Just less than a month before the Philippine government plans to hold an auction for new mobile phone licenses, Isla Communications Co. and Globe Telecom Gmcr both launched prepaid Global System for Mobile communications services.
The launches represent the first shots of an aggressive nationwide marketing campaign to compete in the ongoing cellular war waging in the island country.
Instant Islacom GSM includes caller ID, call waiting, short message service, call hold, call barring, instant fraud protection and emergency number calling. The company boasts it can instantly activate any existing GSM cellular phone to the service, once customers purchase a Starter SIM Pack. The starter pack includes a subscriber identity module card and a free P500 Value Card. New subscribers insert the SIM card into the existing phone, dial “555″ and enter the access number on the Value Card to activate the phone to the new service.
Those without an existing GSM phone can buy a complete phone kit, which is basically the same thing as the Starter Pack but includes a Nokia 1610 GSM handset.
The prepaid portion of the service comes in the form of the Value Card. Prepaid service is likely to grow popular in the Philippines, where the market has long contended with a significant subscriber fraud problem. Users can set price limits via the card to control their phone budgets and the credit limit can be replenished as needed.
Globe Telecom’s prepaid service also includes a SIM card and prepaid card that customers can purchase either with or without a GSM phone.
Both prepaid GSM services are products of agreements signed in November with Brightpoint Inc., which will provide the phone kits, airtime cards, retail development, distribution, merchandising and end-user customer service and support.
The cellular competition is expected to get even hotter as the country prepares for an auction of mobile services licenses originally scheduled for Feb. 9 but recently delayed with no new date set. The National Telecommunications Commission, the Philippine regulatory agency, plans to issue one nationwide and four regional permits for new mobile phone operators. The license, technologically neutral, will be at 1800 MHz license.
One competitor, Belle Telecommunications Philippines, has asked the NTC to disqualify fellow bidders Smart Communications Inc., Globe Telecom and Philipino Telephone Corp. from bidding.
The company claims the bidders have not installed the number of fixed lines required under the government’s telecom deregulation program. The NTC has not yet made any decision regarding this request.
Smart Communications Co. operates a GSM network and a Total Access Communications System. Globe Telecom operates a GSM network and Piltel, the largest mobile operator in the market, currently operates a CDMA network. Piltel recently awarded Telular Corp. a $2.8 million contract to provide fixed wireless terminals for a Digital-Advanced Mobile Phone Service as well.
The fixed line controversy stems from the NTC’s deregulation criteria that requires all cellular providers in the country to deploy 250,000 fixed lines by 2000. That requirement has been under dispute, though, because many feel it is an impossible demand to meet.