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Broadband over power lines? Don't count on it, yet

Dominant carrier PLDT, as well as its high-profile chief executive Manny V. Pangilinan, have been in the news lately because of an allegation from a senator that former Pres.
Written by Joel D. Pinaroc, Contributor and  Melvin G. Calimag, Contributor

Dominant carrier PLDT, as well as its high-profile chief executive Manny V. Pangilinan, have been in the news lately because of an allegation from a senator that former Pres. Joseph Estrada forced local tycoon Alfonso Yuchengco to sell his shares, so Pangilinan's group can take over the telco giant in the 1990s.

I won't go far in discussing this issue since the nation is pretty familiar with it already. What I'd like to touch on is PLDT's recent maneuverings at power distributor, Meralco. Based on news reports, PLDT has coalesced with the Lopez family to form the block that now controls the power firm.

PLDT's entry into Meralco has provided a little sideshow--a boardroom battle between PLDT and beverage conglomerate San Miguel Corp. (SMC), which is now diversifying into various industries, including the energy sector.

Pangilinan's alliance with the Lopezes was crucial in the sense that it allowed Manolo Lopez to remain as Meralco CEO, while thwarting the takeover attempts of SMC at the same time.

This was also significant because SMC has bought into Liberty Telecoms, a new industry player which main financial backer is Qatar Telecom. PLDT, of course, is the country's dominant carrier and it would have been stupid for the company not to react as SMC slowly crept into its turf.

But, observers say the bigger prize in which PLDT was more concerned about is a new technology called broadband over power lines (BPL), which allows subscribers to just plug in their computers in electrical outlets to gain access to high-speed Internet.

I'm speculating here but SMC, through Liberty Telecoms, might have introduced--or laid the groundwork--this early for BPL, if it succeeded in taking control of Meralco. I said "might" because Liberty hasn't disclosed what kind of telco offerings it will offer to the public. This could have been the easiest way for Liberty to make an impact in the highly competitive telco space.

I'm not saying that PLDT is not keen on bringing in BPL to the country, but it's foolish not to think that it may want to delay or even refuse to deploy it until after it has recovered its investments on its other broadband technologies.

To be fair, BPL has not been extensively implemented in any part of the globe, including Europe or the United States. In a recent Cisco Systems event in Incheon, South Korea, I had the opportunity to talk to Euro Beinat, a professor from the Center for Geoinformatics at the University of Salzburg. He said BPL is an innovative technology but it may take a few more years before it becomes pervasive, since a number of technical compatibilities between power and telephone lines have yet to be resolved.

For PLDT and SMC, it's interesting to see what role BPL will play in their continuing quest for dominance in the Philippine market.

UPS firms, NAIA needs your help The shameful, and costly, radar failure that shut down the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) a few days ago has been blamed by officials on the old UPS facility that failed to respond when a power outage hit the airport.

According to report, the UPS backup is already ten-years-old and is now past its prime. Bureaucratic redtape has prevented the government from purchasing a replacement, officials were quoted as saying.

Perhaps, UPS firm APC should hurry up in appointing a country manager for its Philippine office so they can offer NAIA a good package to spare the country with another possible radar breakdown.

It's already been sometime since Pascal Bodin, the erstwhile chief of APC Philippines, has left the country, but the company has yet to name his replacement.

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