A court ruling could put 3G in the Philippines into the same bureaucratic bog as in Thailand and India.
Unlike the other two markets, the Philippines has long since issued 3G licenses, but the allocation process is now under scrutiny.
The Court of Appeals has ordered the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to review its 3G allocation process of five years ago following a case brought by embattled fixed-line operator BayanTel.
BayanTel bid unsuccessfully for 3G spectrum, alleging that the NTC failed to make clear its methodology for awarding points to would-be bidders.
To be considered eligible for a license, an operator needed 20 points – BayanTel scored 18.5 points.
While the Court of Appeals stopped short of saying that BayanTel should now receive 3G spectrum or revoking the 3G licenses of those that acquired spectrum – Smart, Globe, Digitel and CURE - it did call on the NTC review its 3G tender process.
At the same time, the NTC is investigating whether to revoke the 3G license of CURE, a unit of incumbent PLDT, which has failed to roll out a network.
After aquiring CURE, PLDT launched a new service, branded Red Mobile, which leases the 3G network of another PLDT unit Smart. In short, CURE’s spectrum has essentially been rolled into Smart, and is not being used exclusively by Red Mobile.
A couple of things can now happen, bearing in mind also that the NTC is looking to issue a new batch of 10MHz spectrum at 2100MHz to either a new entrant or incumbent.
Firstly, the NTC won’t recall CURE’s spectrum, but it could issue the new 10MHz 3G bundle to BayanTel.
Or the NTC will recall CURE’s spectrum, giving it two 3G spectrum lots to allocate, of which one, could go to BayanTel.
The first is the more likely.
Either way, it appears that BayanTel could get its hands on 3G spectrum which could be its saving grace.