Globe WiMAX, Smart Bro, PLDT myDSL: Broadband Reviews
Broadband Service Offerings in the Philippines
An opportunity to compare broadband service offerings of three major telecommunication companies in the Philippines came from our recent decision to move our family to a town in Laguna, about 60 kilometers south of Manila. I am going to share our experience seeking the fastest way to a reliable broadband service in our area. It might at least give you some ideas on what to expect if you are also thinking of getting a broadband connection here.
Our main priority was fast installation. Reliable connection at an acceptable speed was, of course, a given. We did not simply rely on the advertisements and press releases of broadband service providers. Instead, we first surveyed the experiences of friends and neighbors in the immediate vicinity, since location in an important factor in the availability and strength of signal for wireless broadband services.
Immediately, the two phone companies offering broadband services in the area were eliminated, as both failed the fast installation requirement and the newer phone company failed in customer service as per the experience of those we surveyed.
SMART Bro Versus GLOBE WiMAX
It then became a toss up between SMART Bro and GLOBE WiMAX, the two main rivals for the top spots in wireless broadband service in the Philippines. These two providers got mixed reviews on internet forums and blogs. From the customer feedback I read, I surmised that the quality of wireless broadband service depends on the area as signal strength and reliability vary among service areas. Therefore, it really boiled down to finding out the experiences of our neighbors, and both SMART Bro and GLOBE WiMAX got generally satisfactory ratings in the neighborhood.
The clincher was the 30-day money-back guarantee of Globe WiMAX, which to us is an indication of their confidence in their technology, infrastructure, and service provision. In addition, the lock-in period was only 12 months compared to 24 months for SMART Bro.
This is significant, as both companies advertised that there is “no pre-termination fee” should one decide to terminate before the contract expires. Actually, this is because you don’t need to pay any additional charges as you would have to pay the remaining months of the contract! Meaning, if you still have 10 months remaining in the contract, the company has the right to demand that you immediately pay the 10 months if you decide to pre-terminate or stop service provision before the contract expires.
This is, obviously, the price to pay for the relaxed application requirements, no installation fees, and fast installation as these companies take a gamble on the initial cost of installation. They are actually assured of either a 12-month or 24-month income from the customers who sign up under these terms. It’s no surprise that you can find people cursing these companies for poor service when they have no way of getting around the lock-in period.
Comparison of Broadband Service Providers in the Philippines
Our Experience with Globe WiMAX
The actual application process was easy, although we felt that we waited in line a little longer than necessary as there was only one customer service representative on duty. The representative was accommodating and assisted us all the way. To avail of the 30-day money-back guarantee, we had to show financial documents or pay the first month at PhP 995. Choosing the latter was the most expedient for us, so we complied as this can be refunded should we be not satisfied with the service.
As promised, Globe WiMAX’s contractor came two days later and even contacted us ahead of time to set an appointment on a Saturday. This was a step up in customer service for utility companies in the Philippines, as most used to get around to installation or repair on their own sweet time.
We were on high spirits as the contractor’s personnel started their work immediately. However, in trying to install an antenna on top of the roof we hit a snag. The owner of the apartment we’re renting does not allow installation of anything on the roof for concerns about safety and structural integrity. Even so, the installation team tried out an antenna on the roof to test for a signal, and we were disappointed to find out that we’re on a “dead spot” for Globe WiMAX signal. Dead spot? Yes, even if houses a few meters away have very strong and reliable signal, it’s no guarantee that you will get the same. Tough luck! They tried all possible directions for the receiver as there are supposedly two sources (towers) in our area, but to no avail.
Getting a Refund from Globe WiMAX
The team leader told us that they’d make the report and then a Globe customer service representative would contact us about the refund. After a few days my wife was instructed to go back to the GlobeServiceCenter where we made the application to fill out a form. Interestingly, she did not get her refund on the same day she filled out the refund form; she had to wait for another call and had to go back to the service center! When told that it would be so much hassle to go back for another trip, the customer service representative said that the refund money was not available. She then apologized and asked that we wait for her call in a few days to inform her when the money would be available.
I am not sure if the requirement for two visits is a deliberate attempt to discourage refunds or Globe’s system for refund just needs improvement. The money is obviously always available at their service centers as majority of transactions are bill payments. Although the money was available after a few days, it was only after almost a month that we got another chance to go back to the center.
Our Experience with SMART Bro
Our second choice was SMART Bro. The application process was also straightforward but the waiting time in the SmartServiceCenter bothered us a bit. It didn’t pay for us to be there shortly after opening as the frontline representatives were not the first to report! As indicated in the table above, there’s no installation fee for Smart Bro, but we had to pay for the first month upon application. We were assured that we’d get a refund should a problem arise during the installation.
The SMART contractor’s installation crew was outside our gates the next day! Now, that was fast! They also informed us ahead of time that they were coming. We immediately told them about the restrictions in installing anything on the roof. So they tried to look for alternatives and eventually found a place that gave the receiver a good signal.
SMART Bro’s standard options for installation of their fixed wireless service antenna:
- The receiver must be on top of a 10-feet iron pole to be installed on top of the roof, securely braced. The pole’s length may be extended up to 20 feet should it be necessary to acquire better quality signal.
- If it’s not possible on the roof, a stable wall such as the side of a building can be used with the antenna pole braced securely and the receiver on top of the pole.
- If the antenna has to be installed on ground level, the pole must not exceed 20 feet.
Anything other than these standard set-up options is considered substandard and therefore not acceptable.
We already knew that the first option is not available for us, so the installation crew attempted to find signal on top of a small structure housing a pump within the compound. While it can be braced and secured on that structure, the receiver got no signal.
They also attempted to install it at ground level but no signal was received using a 20-foot pole, which is the maximum length for this option.
Finally, they tried the second option, affixing the antenna to the wall of the resort hotel adjacent to the compound that was accessible to us. This time the signal was good and the pole and receiver could be installed securely. However, the owner of both the apartments and the resort hotel did not approve of the plan, reasoning that the hotel is a separate property and that installing an antenna across the two properties is not acceptable.
Whew! You can just imagine how disappointed we were, especially since we saw SMART Bro as our last option to get connected to the internet in our new place. The contractor’s installation crew was also disappointed. Their leader explained that their company is paid only if they have successfully installed a connection. If they resorting to a substandard setup, they would get into trouble as customers would eventually complain about the unreliable connection.
With so much disappointment, we stopped our efforts to get a broadband service. It took another week or so to try out PLDT’s myDSL promo with bundled landline and Watchpad. I reasoned that if we applied immediately, the two to three weeks estimated by PLDT (or at least one month according to nearby PLDT customers) would fly by.
Our Experience with PLDT myDSL
Compared to GLOBE WiMAX and SMART Bro, PLDT myDSL had more forms to fill out and documents to present. The documents were required because I availed myself of the one-year free PLDT-to-PLDT calls nationwide. After submitting all requirements, I forgot about it as a defense-mechanism for the expected long wait.
It took another week for a customer service representative to visit the house for the required on-site inspection. Since I was not in the house during the visit, my wife found out that the representative could have visited much earlier if our paperwork had not been misplaced. It seemed that the apprentice who received my application documents placed it on the wrong pile! That mistake cost us a few days of delay.
The representative said that the service would be installed within a two- to three-week time frame. We were, of course, expecting the worst.
Friday of that same week (the inspection happened on a Monday), the contractor installed the cable and gave us a sneak peek at the service by showing us how to access the Internet even before we got the dial tone for the phone line. It was, of course, a most welcomed gesture as they knew that most new installations are primarily for the broadband internet connection and the landline is secondary (or really unnecessary, as the Philippines has one of the highest numbers of mobile phones per capita in the world). The next day, I received a call from the same contractor to give me our new phone number and telling me that I could now try to set up my router.
It took me two more days to finally figure out the settings needed for the router, but we were already surfing the net since that Friday when the lines were installed. It took another three days for the Watchpad to be operational. I found out that after installation an internal audit is necessary to get everything in place.
The PLDT customer representative gave me an option to text PLDT HELP and send it to 77171 for immediate assistance and a representative will call back to assist. Note that this service is only available for SMART pre-paid and postpaid subscribers as PLDT and SMART are actually sister companies.
Setting Up Watchpad
Watchpad's customer service representative was very helpful and patient assisting us, as it took us about an hour to make the feature work on my computer. Why that long? Beside the need to upload certain drivers, install them, and restart the computer, it also took us a while to discover that the account number given to me, which is needed to register, was wrong by one digit.
So after 17 days from filing the application requirements, we have everything set up, which is actually within the two to three weeks estimate of PLDT. We’re now ready to write again and publish online, make and receive calls through our phone line, and watch the following channels for free through the via Watchpad: CNN, National Geographic Channel, CNBC, Go Shopping Channel, Pinoy Box Office, Animax, TBN-Word, Living Asia, Channel V Philippines, Cartoon Network, E! Entertainment Channel, History Channel, Biography Channel, Crime & Investigation, Splash, and RCTV.
Watchpad is significant for us as we do not have a television set in the house. The kids can only watch an hour or two of TV on the weekends. So now we have the option through Watchpad, and the kids especially like the History and the National Geographic channels.
Looking back, our biggest disappointments occurred because we prioritized fast installation. Now that we’re more or less on track with our online activities, I remember that we used to have a DSL (broadband bundled with landline) service provided by Bayantel in Davao City and we were satisfied with the service for two years. We were paying about the same monthly fees as our current PLDT myDSL subscription. The difference perhaps was that Bayantel, being a new company then, promoted their products and made good with customer service with fast on-time installation and assistance.
PLDT myDSL has provided reliable service so far. It’s still too early to tell, but I am so thankful we decided to go through the search despite the hassles.