New Philippines operator Dito Telecommunity, which missed a key rollout deadline earlier this year, says it is on track to launch next March.

Chief Technology Officer Rodolfo Santiago said in a briefing Dito had built 859 basestations by mid-September and was aiming to complete at least 2,000 by year-end.

The company, controlled by prominent businessman Dennis Uy, missed an important rollut deadline in July, which it blamed on the pandemic, and was granted an extension until early 2021.

Dito is 60%-owned by two Uy companies, Udenna Corporation and publicly listed Chelsea Logistics, with Beijing-owned China Telecom holding the remaining 40%. The company acquired embattled southern Philippines operator Mislatel and its national operating license in November 2018.

From next March it will take on the entrenched duopoly of Smart Telecom, a unit of PLDT, and Singtel-backed Globe Telecom.

To help speed the rollout, Dito on Wednesday announced a 10 billion peso (US$206 million) network rollout contract with affiliate Udenna Infrastructure Corp (UIC).

UIC says it will deploy approximately 1,500 towers and lay more than 1,400km of fiber over the next two years.

The political and financial pressure is on Uy. He is a close friend of President Duterte, who has repeatedly complained about the performance of the incumbents and facilitated the entry of China Telecom to provide a strong competitor.

Uy has committed to spending 257 billion pesos ($5.1 billion) over five years on the rollout. If he falls short he will lose his 257 billion peso performance bond and his spectrum.

He has promised to cover at least 37% of the population in the first year of operation and 84% in year five, with a minimum average download speed of 27 Mbit/s in the first year.

Today’s announcement is Dito’s first major supply contract disclosure. Its prime network vendors are Huawei and ZTE, who also supply PLDT and Globe, but the company has made no announcements, no doubt due to the political sensitivity.

Dito has also signed up Fortinet for network security and last month contracted ZTE’s telecom software group Whale Cloud to provide its BSS/OSS and analytics.

Dito, which trades under Dito CME Holdings on the local stock exchange, enjoyed a 37% run-up in its stock price last week, which analysts attributed to a positive view of the telecom market and the belief that the pressure being applied to the incumbents will aid the newcomer.

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