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Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo

Nov 9, 2022

The potential of HAPS systems to bridge the digital gap

Building a digitally competitive nation for the Filipino people is one of the primary goals of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). In ensuring people’s access to the internet, the Department helps open doors for new opportunities that will upskill Filipinos’ ICT knowledge and skills, create more jobs in the ICT sector, as well as revive the economy.

To ensure the provision of strategic, reliable, cost-efficient and citizen-centric ICT infrastructure, the DICT is implementing several initiatives, including the Luzon bypass infrastructure — consisting of the international cable landing stations in Baler, Aurora and San Fernando, La Union and the 250-kilometer fiber conduit that will increase total government capacity from 40,000 Mbps to 2,000,000 Mbps in the next six years — that has gained headway and is expected to reach completion in the first half of 2023.

Moreover, in line with the provisions of Republic Act No. 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act — which aims to accelerate the Philippine government’s efforts in enhancing internet accessibility for Filipinos so that economic, social, and educational opportunities will be bolstered, and the growing digital divide can be bridged — the DICT, under the leadership of Secretary Ivan John Uy, launched the Broadband ng Masa initiative, the department’s banner program to provide free public internet hotspots and lay out fiber backbone to deliver fast, reliable, and cost-effective broadband internet access in the country.

The DICT aims to build the necessary digital infrastructure anchored on President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s Build Better More thrust. The President has made it clear that he wants to ensure universal connectivity so that no citizen is left behind.

Thus, the top agenda is to deploy digital connectivity across our various islands — to prioritize providing and improving internet connectivity in far-flung areas and in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs).

But for an archipelagic country, one of the challenges is providing connectivity in islands where laying fiber cables or establishing cell towers is not possible. To resolve this, the DICT supports innovative solutions, such as the high-altitude platform station (HAPS) systems in providing greater broadband access and connectivity to our communities.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) defines HAPS as “radio stations located on an object at an altitude of 20-50 kilometers and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth.”

Although still in the development stage, HAPS can be a viable solution to achieving our goal of universal connectivity. HAPS systems enable wireless broadband deployment in remote areas including mountains, coastal areas, and deserts.

In fact, according to the ITU, HAPS can contribute to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9 on industry, innovation, and infrastructure, as well as other SDGs by allowing for greater broadband connectivity and telecommunication services, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Moreover, HAPS systems can be deployed for emergency and disaster recovery communications. This is crucial for a country such as ours that is visited by an average of 20 typhoons a year.

We need to leverage the power of innovation in order to bridge the digital gap. And as we look forward to utilizing the HAPS system in the coming years, the DICT will continue to find innovative solutions to expand connectivity in the underserved and unserved areas in the country and to ensure that accessible, fast, reliable, and affordable internet is made available to every Filipino.

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