FOR a little more than a week, I have struggled with a poor Globe internet connection at home. That is nothing new; customers of both the major telecoms continually complain about bad or non-existent connections. However, current affairs and my particular circumstances — which I assume are similar to many people who live in the same complex I do — make the recent lack of performance more infuriating than frustrating.
To better illustrate the problem, I’ll share a few personal technical details. I live very near the center of Metro Manila. My apartment is approximately a kilometer from both the heart of Makati and Bonifacio Global City, and has line of sight to both areas, as well as being in the middle of an area that is a hotspot for business process outsourcing offices.
In terms of connection equipment, I have two Globe devices: A fixed LTE wireless device (called ‘Globe at Home’), and a small, LTE-capable portable device, i.e., a “pocket WiFi.” In addition, my mobile phone can also access 4G/LTE data through my Globe SIM card. As a back-up, which until recently I have rarely used, I have a second 4G/LTE sim card from Smart in my phone. Thus, I have three different ways to access Globe internet, and one for its competitor Smart.
Given my location and equipment, I should be able to enjoy a fairly reliable high-speed internet connection, but even under the best of circumstances the service is mediocre.
Data transfer speeds rarely reach 1 Mbps (megabits per second), and signal interruptions are frequent, although most are of short duration. It is not very often that circumstances are at their best, and on one evening last week, Globe’s system apparently collapsed completely for several hours; I was unable to make any of my three internet connections work, and Globe’s regular cellular phone services were only working intermittently as well.
Contacting Globe to find out what the problem was only was possible by connecting to the internet via my rarely-used Smart number.
The explanation I was given for that particularly service outage by Globe was “system enhancements in my area,” which essentially meant nothing; when the service seemed to normalize, it was back to its usual mediocre state, save for a period of about an hour immediately after the restoration, in which the signal seemed slightly stronger than usual.
The striking thing about Globe is that its other business lines stand in sharp contrast to the performance and reputation of what should be its core business, telecommunications services. Globe’s GCash money service, which is operated in partnership with the digital money enterprise Mynt, is probably the best non-bank suite of financial services available in the country today, and is highly reliable. Even services that are tangential to Globe’s telecommunications services, such as its rewards program, are reliable and worthwhile for consumers.
It is easy to see what Globe is doing, because it is a common practice among Philippine companies. The nature of business regulation here is conducive to and in fact, actually encourages diversification so that when an enterprise encounters an obstacle in one of its business lines, it can easily maintain its overall growth momentum by shifting its efforts to different ones.
Ride-hailing services such as Grab or Angkas are good examples of this. Due to competition and regulation, their core business activity, ride-hailing, was a loss maker, at least initially. And so to compensate for that, their services quickly branched out into other business lines — package delivery, food delivery, digital money services, and so on. Many other businesses do the same thing, and in fact launch themselves with a core business activity serving as no more than a means to register the enterprise and get it off the ground; that is why we see so many ambiguously defined companies with “marketing” or “trading” or “holdings” or “investments” in their names.
Most would consider this a good macro-strategy, and it is, in most cases. Problems arise, however, when the mission creeps beyond the primary demand of the business’s market. A service like GCash is nice, and it may even be attractive enough that a customer might choose Globe over its competitor because of the availability of GCash, but it is supposed to be a value-added service; ultimately, the customer is still signing up for Globe’s core service, its telecommunications network.
I am picking on Globe because Globe is a familiar example, but it is by no means the only one. The scattershot approach to business strategy here has led to an overall customer experience environment in which there are a large number of very active businesses, but whose services are uniformly mediocre due to a lack of focus. Most Filipino consumers never realize this unless they have the opportunity to travel elsewhere, and find sheer joy in doing things people in other places take for granted — connecting one’s phone to the internet, shopping in a department store, paying a bill, or ordering lunch at a fast-food place.
This country’s general lack of private-sector performance is something that regulation cannot fix, except for that which tends to encourage competition, which in turn leads to a more competent and discerning consumer market. Unfortunately, government still has a serious blind spot in this regard, which is illustrated by examples such as the sadly confusing and inadequate development of the long-awaited third telecom provider, and the LTFRB’s (Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board) bureaucratic conceit in dealing with Angkas and other ride-hailing services.