The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) has assured that it will begin implementing the new billing system for mobile voice calls by the first week of December, ahead of the Christmas season when the volume of communication usually doubles. "This is expected to benefit the 75 million mobile phone subscribers during the Christmas season," NTC deputy commissioner Douglas Mallillin said.
Mallillin said that while the mobile phone operators were asking for another delay in the implementation of Memorandum Circular No. 05-07-2009 until January 31, 2010, he said the telecom providers have been given enough time to prepare for the switch in the billing system. The circular set at six seconds per pulse the maximum unit of billing for the cellular phone calls of both postpaid or prepaid subscribers. Currenctly, subscribers are charged P6.50 per minute of call.
It was supposed to take effect in June 2009, but the telecom companies asked for a four-month extension of the preparation period. Now, the companies wanted to delay it again until January, claiming that they may not be able to handle the large volume of calls when the switch is implemented in December, when the number of voice calls normally peaks. With the current billing system, even calls lasting for less than one minute are charged P6.50. The new system will bill the first 12 seconds or two pulses as the flag down rate, plus additional charge on every succeeding pulse or six seconds.
Telecom companies, however, are already offering various promotional offers outside the regular billing system, such as unlimited voice calls and unlimited texting and it remains to be seen whether the new billing system would be cheaper or more costly to the subscribers.
"We have already given them four months to prepare, which was enough for one-month programming and three months of testing," Mallillin said.
"Our target is to implement it by December 6," he added.
The circular established a flag down rate equivalent to first two pulses or a period of 12 seconds, which may be charged a minimum rate.
However, no rates have been set yet, as to how much a 12-second voice call will cost.
In its application, Smart Communications proposed P3 to P6 for the flag down rate, representing first 12 seconds of a cellular call. In excess of the 12 seconds, each pulse or every six seconds was proposed to be charged from P0.70 to P2.25.
Globe Telecom proposed a flag down rate of P3 to P8, and P0.70 to P1.25 for every succeeding pulse.
Mallillin said the NTC will conduct its own computation for the flag down rate, after considering the proposals of the telcos and the investments made by the companies.
"We will come up with the flag down rate by November," he said.
Meanwhile, the NTC said it is stilly studying the best formula to adopt in calculating the accumulated prepaid credits of mobile phone subscribers.
Douglas Mallillin, deputy commissioner of the government agency in charge of regulating the telecom industry, said that while NTC Memorandum Circular 03-07-2009, which prescribed longer validity period for prepaid load, was implemented in August, a provision on calculating the validity period of accummulated prepaid loads or credits is still being studied.
Mobile phone operators have requested for extension of the implementation of the provision, because of some problems in their software and data storage systems.
Section 4 of the circular provides that for each new load that is purchased, the amount of the unused loads earlier purchased that are still within the validity period shall be added to and accumulate to the new load.
"The new minimum validity or expiry period shall be based on the sum of the new load plus the unused load," the NTC said.
"We would like to see which is the best for the subscribers," Mallillin said, noting that Globe Telecom, Smart Communications and Sun Cellular have different proposals.
Section 1 of the circular provides that a load of P10 or below should have an expiration period of three days while a load of P10 to P50 should be valid for 15 days.
The problem arises when prepaid subscribers add new electronic load, even before the expiration of the remaining load.
The NTC said that for purposes of illustration, "if for example a subscriber has an unused load of P2 and a P10 new load is purchased, the new validity or expiry period shall be 15 days," it added.
Mallillin confirmed that determining this new formula on calculating accummulated loads would require the telecom companies to procure new computer storage systems.
Smart Communications president Napoleon Nazareno earlier claimed that additional investments would be needed in computer storage capacity, and switching capacity. Nazareno, however, said most subscribers are consuming their pre-paid loads before expiration. Aside from telecom companies, the NTC also met with IT suppliers such as Huawei to determine whether the new formula can be implemented.