How to solve the 3G network congestion problem?

One of the primary reasons why we don’t have a comprehensive 3G offering from the big telcos is because of the problem of 3G network congestion. It’s an undeniable truth that P2P is killing 3G in the Philippines.

Globe Telecom went out with an unlimited Globe Visibility plan about 2 years ago (initially offered as an enterprise product and went commercial in September 2006). Before that PLDT had WeRoam which was a bit cost-prohibitive since the data cards cost over Php10,000 each. There’s an estimated 12,000 WeRoam corporate accounts now and an additional 10,000 Smart Bro accounts in the first quarter the prepaid kits were released.

The natural path would have been for all carriers to offer unlimited 3G plans but the recent announcement that Globe Visibility will no longer offer was a step backward.

Sun Cellular was bold enough to offer a Metro Manila-wide unlimited 3G for Php999. It remains to be seen if there’s enough interest in that offer considering only selected areas in Metro manila is covered by 3G their network. I hope they do so that the other two would offer back unlimited plans.

Smart’s acquisition of CURE allowed them to gain access to additional frequencies they can use to expand their 3G network but we have yet to hear an upgrade or an expansion of the network to provincial areas.

There are 2 options here — provide a fast and consistent yet expensive service OR offer an eat-all-you can but choppy service. Carriers are choosing the former.

I am hoping there could be another option somewhere in between those two. The idea is to partially solve the P2P problem that causes network congestion and still offer a more affordable (or unlimited) broadband service.

  • Packet Shaping. Carriers have the capacity to determine and minimize 3G internet traffic coming from specific protocols like BitTorent or other P2P networks. Speeds can be throttled down to de-congest the network and allow more capacity, esp. on peak hours.
  • Unlimited Off Peak Access. This was originally introduced in the dial-up segment where usage is free during off peak hours. It’s usually between 12 midnight to 7am. Carriers can do this on top of whatever existing prepaid and postpaid offerings they have now. So if I’m limited to 100 hours a month, I can use that during emergencies and just do of my leisure surfing time during offpeak hours. Just make sure the prepaid users have a minimum load balance before they can connect to avoid freeloaders.
  • Bandwidth Capping. Instead of time-charging which they do now, how about capping the total bandwidth? This is done in the hosting industry and also being implemented in so many countries. Give a customer a bandwidth allocation for a month, say 5GB instead of 100 hours. 3G internet isn’t really meant for downloading and online video streaming so for regular surfing and email access, 5GB more than enough. If a subscriber attempts to use it for downloading torrents, I’m sure the 5GB wouldn’t last him a couple of days so that should solve the problem with heavyweight users.
  • Graduated Plans. They do this in Singapore — provide various 3G speeds depending on the postpaid plans. Have different pricing schemes for 384Kbps, 512Kbps, 768Kbps and 1Mbps connections.

The goal here is to move 3G usage towards an unlimited offering without compromising quality of connection. I’m sure they’re reading this and hopefully, would reconsider some or a combination of the options I outlined above.

I know that rolling out a nationwide 3G network cost a gazillion of capital. In Europe, it’s been reported that the estimated infrastructure and services cost is about 650 euros (Php43,000) per 3G customer. Pretty expensive, huh?

Going back the question, which compromised solution do you think is more reasonable to the market?

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