Marbel Telephone System is a company in transition. Historically, it has served rural and urban households in South Cotabato province in the Philippines, on the island of Mindanao, including the cities of Cotabato and Koronadal, as well as a total of 11 different municipalities, in the SOCCSKSARGEN region with more than 700,000 people.

But Marbel recently got permission to extend service to General Santos City–the largest city in the region– and the municipalities of Sarangani Province, adding seven more cities. That means extending service to another potential 400,000 to 500,000 people.

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Marbel also plans to enter the cable TV business as well. As part of that expansion Marbel is laying new fiber and turning up a new Metaswitch.

The company is still in acceptance testing and frankly does not know what new services it will be able to provide, though hosted IP telephony is a likely choice, says Benjamin Garcia, Marbel VP and COO. It also is fairly clear that the company’s roughly 6,000 lines will grow dramatically as its adds the new serving areas, so the additional capacity is necessary.

Operating cost savings also are expected as power consumption of the Metaswitch is significantly lower than that of the legacy switch it hopes to replace. “Electricity is very expensive in our area,” says Garcia. “Power savings could be dramatic.”

The business context for communications in South Cotabato is illustrative in two respects. “Everybody has a mobile,” says Garcia. “In rural areas, it is really important.”

The second important fact is that there is huge demand for broadband Internet access. “Broadband is really where the growth is,” he says.

The implications are clear. Fixed voice services must offer value that mobility does not, and must work in a context where Internet access and video are foundational services.

One way of differentiating fixed voice from mobility is to offer higher value. “Calling within our service area is free, while text costs one peso per message, so fixed is a better value,” says Garcia. Also, he says, “everybody thinks better quality with landlines.” So there is a quality issue Marbel can build on.

Irrespective of that, Marbel can grow by expanding into its new service territory and becoming a video services provider. At the same time, Garcia is pondering some relatively unusual steps. As it introduces video services, it might “throw in the telephone later, maybe for free,” he says. Bundling as a packaging technique works virtually everywhere because it provides more value for less money. And that seems to be just what Garcia is thinking.

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