Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Piltel: Telecom sector’s comeback kid

WHAT DO THE DEFUNCT BEEPER 150 and Mobiline have in common with the now thriving Talk ’N Text?

They were all born out of Pilipino Telephone Corp.’s fall and its revival after weathering the industry’s technological and financial challenges.

Piltel’s turnaround story is a landmark case in the country. It was a leading analog telephony and paging service operator in the 1990s until it was beset by technological and financial woes.

From debts that ballooned to more than P40 billion and the Asian financial crisis to technology woes and an unsuccessful phone line rollout, it was all downhill for Piltel.

As parent company PLDT (Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.) puts it, Piltel is the first Philippine company to have successfully negotiated a corporate debt-restructuring “on a consensual basis.” That is, without involving the Securities and Exchange Commission and the courts.

“The thing about Piltel was … number one, when we (First Pacific Co. Ltd.) came in, it had over P40 billion of debt; number two, it was in what I call a technological cul de sac. It was in CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access),” PLDT chair Manuel V. Pangilinan said in an interview. CDMA is a technology which, in the 1990s, was not supported by handsets that could process text messages.

The beginning

Piltel was incorporated with limited liability on July 18, 1968. Piltel initially owned and operated local telephone exchange or landline networks in eight cities and municipalities outside Metro Manila -- Baguio City, General Santos, Olongapo, Subic, Puerto Princesa, Digos, Boac and Masbate.

In March 1991, Piltel started operating cellular telephone services using various technologies -- ranging from analog AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) technology to the digital CDMA technology, a US standard.

In August 1993, Piltel ventured into the paging business and launched Beeper 150. Piltel was listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange in July 1995. By 1996, Piltel had cornered a 42-percent market share in analog cellular services, but the introduction in the country of text messaging rendered its products and services obsolete.

In April 2000, seeing the futility of fighting text messaging, Piltel shelved its CDMA technology and launched its GSM prepaid cellular service under the brand name Talk ’N Text. Riza T. Olchondra - Asian Journal

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