Wi-Fi Bai! Cebu Gets Hot, Wirelessly.

Political map of Metro Cebu

Political map of Metro Cebu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dominion Wireless Broadband Access may be the best Philippine broadband provider that you have yet to hear about (if you live in Luzon that is). Based in Cebu, and as of the writing of this feature, still unaffiliated with any of the major manila-based telco or media conglomerates, this lean and spunky outfit may just be able to teach the big boys a thing or two, and if all goes to plan, have them heading for the hills. You can count on the Cebuanos to come up with the magical equation of better service + cheaper rates + seamless wireless = broadband domination.

Dominion’s ultimate goal is to make the entire Metro Cebu area a hot zone. Their venture will be the first in Southeast Asia in terms of metro-scale wireless broadband deployment.

Uptown Cebu City has been their starting point. Dominion launched Cebu’s first wireless-fidelity (wi-fi) zone or “hot zone” at the Mango Square Mall last year. To clarify, a hot zone is not the same as a hot spot. While a hot spot covers an area good for one household, office, or establishment, a hot zone can cover an entire neighborhood. Dominion has mounted only a single antenna on the roof of the Mango Square Mall. Powered by Wi-Max, this transmitter is enough to provide wireless internet access throughout the entire mall, even extending out onto adjacent streets and buildings. Dominion has currently set-up additional hot zones at Cebu’s Capitol Site, Fuente Osmeña, and Banilad Town Center. The rest of the metropolis is soon to follow. “We are now in the final stage of energizing our Network Operations Center (NOC). Once the NOC is up and running, the roll-out shall commence and the delivery of quality service we have committed will be maintained,” adds Dominion general manager Edwin Sanchez.

A member of the Nozomi Group of Companies, a subsidiary of ASA Enterprises, founded  by a group of Cebuano Filipino-Chinese businessmen, with the help of some Manila-based tech people from Protocol Century Inc and American hardware suppliers Tropos Networks and Aperto Networks Inc., Dominion aims to launch a surgical strike into the heart of the broadband market.

Wi-Fi Signal logo

Wi-Fi Signal logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And they’ve got big guns and deep pockets backing them up. Their partners include such household names as IBM, Lenovo, and Motorola. Add to that list Tropos Networks, the proven market leader in delivering metro-scale Wi-Fi mesh network products and services, and Aperto Networks, who develops and delivers the world’s most advanced WiMAX broadband wireless products for service providers. Already there are rumblings about even bigger names jumping onto the Dominion bandwagon.

Aside from gumption, the Dominion boys and girls have got enthusiasm to burn. For their demo spiel, they showed off video streaming from the powerful wireless cameras they had installed around Cebu. Able to rotate in any direction and zoom in on far-away details, we remotely checked in on their servers and technicians from across the street, and even snuck looks at sunbathers from a block away, all in real time! These cameras highlight just how versatile and effective (and fun even) a city-wide wireless network can be, if coupled with the right technology. As an example of this, to aid the Philippine National Police in rapidly responding to disturbances duringCebu’s famous Sinulog Grand Parade, Dominion Wireless deployed wireless security cameras along strategic areas of the Sinulog route. The policemen were so impressed by the technology, they almost didn’t want to return the equipment, and Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmena has begun seriously considering installing a wireless surveillance system throughout the city. For another demonstration that would do the W?BIC! extreme techies at m-ph HQ proud, we had a picture taken of their wi-fi enabled PDAs displaying the wirelessly transmitted image of me taking a picture of them showing their wi-fi enabled PDAs displaying me taking a picture of them… and so on and so forth like a hall of wi-fi enabled mirrors.

As befits the young Cebuano Turks that they are, their marketing campaigns have been guerilla and unconventional. They distributed plastic streamers to all the establishments within their hot zones. Even sari-sari stores and carinderias have been very enthusiastic about hanging them up, and making their humble businesses look hi-tech without having to install a single gadget. Then they’ve been giving away free prepaid cards to anyone who’s interested. Although, as with other wi-fi providers, they still have a bit of a problem regarding properly educating the participating establishments as to how wi-fi really works and how to deal with customers who ask about it or encounter problems connecting. And of course they also have to deal with their fair share of nay-sayers and pessimists.

Aggressively competing on the two fields where some other broadband providers have thoroughly dropped the ball: price and speed, Dominion is taking no prisoners with their Cebu roll-out. They’re offering a 384 kpbs connection for only 889 pesos per month, 512 kbps for P1,499, and a blazing 768 kbps for P1,999, significantly cheaper and faster than their closest competition. That’s more than enough to get some people to seriously consider moving to Cebu! But hold your horses! Fortunately for us poor overcharged underserved denizens of Luzon, Dominion plans to eventually move up to Metro Manila and start showing the over-complacent broadband providers here how it should be done. For quite some time now, numerous corporations have been testing or soft-launching their products and services in Cebu first, then when they get it right there, that’s when they decide to make a splash in Manila. The success rate of products that do well in Cebu when transplanted to Manila is virtually 100%, and Dominion hopes to be no exception.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

The Hot Spot – keeping connected in Boracay

Boracay is as close to a compleat paradise as we can get to without flashing our passports. It’s got everything: white sand beaches, warm sunshine, wild parties, and most importantly, what we techies want – wi-fi! The Hot Spot has hotspots! Yes, there’s yet another reason to brave the planes, boats, and crowds just to scope out our sweet little corner of wireless broadband bliss. After all, just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have to take a break from the net. On the contrary, it’s a really triumphant W?BIC! (Why? Because I Can!) moment to be able to wirelessly surf the web while the sea breeze blows over your face and the waves lap at your feet (and hopefully not at your laptop!).

Over the long weekend we stayed at the idyllic Boracay Terraces Resort, right at the very end of White Beach. Beyond the other things to recommend about the resort, like the huge, lavishly appointed rooms, and in-house spa service, is the fact that they’ve got a really strong and steady wi-fi signal that was a cinch to connect to, and consistently speedy. In fact, some of the resorts in the relatively posh-er Boat Station 1 area seem to be set-up for the requirements of the discriminating jet-set who can’t go half a day without checking their e-mail or see how their stocks are doing. You can walk across most of this stretch without missing a byte, perfect if you need to shanghai some wi-fi! Towards the busier Boat Station 2 area, where the most popular party places are located, wi-fi gets spottier, harder to sniff out, and less liberally shared. There’s supposed to be an unsecured connection throughout the area provided by Globe, but it didn’t seem to work when I tried it. Some places require you to ask for a key from the manager or owner. Boat Station 3 is backpacker central, and as expected, features a respectable sprinkling of hotspots. Basically, for it’s size, Boracay may just be one of the country’s most wired (and wireless) islands, you needn’t stray far to stumble onto a signal somewhere, or in a pinch, you can always jack in at a cafe.

Even when on vacation, easy connectivity can actually become more of a necessity than a luxury when emergencies strike. And in our case, it was a State of Emergency! Through the chaos, the ability to check the latest news reports and keep in touch with friends and family kept this crazy weekend from spiraling out of control.

It’s all in the bags

Packing and preparation is half the fun of traveling, at least I’ve always thought. But bringing your delicate high-tech gadgets with you for an island getaway poses a peculiar challenge. Although it may work for some people to just dump everything into a duffel bag, the prudent techie traveler prizes protection, organization, and security when bundling his gear. So the first order of business should actually be a thorough back up of all your crucial data, be they work documents, contact info, or downloaded porn. You’re never sure what disaster may strike while you’re out and about, and knowing that you’ve got back-up files safe at home can help salvage your trip just in case the worst happens.

Once you’ve banked your software, time to think of bagging your hardware. The heavy black leather-laden bags your laptop probably came with just won’t do. You’ve got to shop around for a lightweight, padded, more casual-looking carrier, one that won’t look out of place on the beach, and maybe with some room for sunscreen or a racy novel. Top-dollar brands like Crumpler and Targus all feature a range of hip gadget-friendly bags, but the budget conscious can get away with any well-constructed messenger bag or backpack plus a little ingenuity. If you’re going the cheapo route, just make sure that your gear carrier has its straps, handles, zips, and clasps securely stitched and fastened, and that the material is of a decent thickness and quality. Bags constructed with waterproof fabric or lining is ideal, padding is a plus. For that added layer of armor, and a nifty way to keep things neat and tidy, go pick up a pack of resealable zip-loc bags. The sandwich-sized ones work well for small gadgets like cellphones, PDAs, MP3 players, digicams and their chargers, the roast-chicken-sized ones are good for power bricks and even small notebooks. For larger gear, garbage bags may do the trick. One bag for each gadget makes them easy to discern when rifling through your stuff, and keeps cables separate and tangle-free. That humble plastic bag could be what provides the precious few seconds before corrosive salt water gets into your gadgets’ circuits as you fish them out from the sea right after you stumble off the boat.

Next, if you don’t have one yet, invest in a lockable security cable for your laptop for the times when you have to leave it behind in your room. Try to figure out a thief-proof way to secure it to something large and hefty, looped around the bed’s headboard and legs works well, and don’t forget not to leave the key lying around !

When on vacation, it’s best to charge as often as you can, since you’re never sure what gimmick or sidetrip might crop up to prevent you from powering up, or you may need to make an urgent phone call or trip research session that may sap your batteries

Hands in your pockets

As a traveler, you’ve got to keep your hands free. It would be rather tiresome to be continuously clutching your phone or camera in either hand when they’re not in use. But if you think it’s just too dorky-touristy to carry your camera, phone, or PDA around on your neck or waist, then you have to invest in clothing with pockets. A gadget vest would be the next less dorky-touristy thing, but considering the heat and the not-too-cool fashion statement you’ll be making, this option is reserved for those guys who can keep from sweating and can pack some serious swagger. So that leaves us mortals with cargo shorts, trunks, or board shorts. Past color, style, and size, pocket quality is another feature you now have to consider. Check for pockets lined with dense fabric and not hole-prone mesh or net-like material. Those that you can zip or Velcro closed are preferred. And of course, your gear has to fit in them. Just using common sense, never let your gadgets out of your sight. Friendly local boatmen or guides may offer to hold your gear or take your pics for you, and although I’m sure that most of them may be honest folk, just be wary of the exceptions who may not be! Executing a regular pocket-pat-down maneuver to check on your gadgets is not a bad little habit either.

Unwire and Unwind

With all these things in mind, don’t forget to actually go have some fun! Let loose, lie down, go wild. Decompress and disconnect yourself from technology for some time. Doing this will make you appreciate it all the more when you plug back in. Anyway, you can always send an SMS when you feel the tech-withdrawal symptoms coming on.

-text and photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

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