An immigrant from China, who could not speak a local word when he came to the Philippines in 1977, is now trying to connect Filipinos all over the country.
Dennis Anthony Uy, 55, is the founder and chief executive of Converge ICT Solutions—the largest high-speed fixed broadband operator in the Philippines which aims to reach over 15 million or 55 percent of households by 2025.
“Back in the day, our lives and experiences as a family were never easy in China. To have one meal a day was considered a blessing for us back then. My family migrated to the Philippines with the help of our Uncle Johnny [Uy] who pioneered grocery stores in Angeles City,” Uy says via email.
Former Angeles City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan describes Uy as a true-blue Angeleno just the same. “Despite his success in business, he is still the same local boy from Angeles City,” Pamintuan says of Uy, in the foreword of a recently-published book.
Uy’s journey from Fujian province where he was born on June 1, 1966 to Hong Kong and the Philippines in 1977 amid the Cultural Revolution and his training as a store handyman, appliance repair technician and electrical engineer prepared him for this opportunity—as the leader of a pure end-to-end high-speed fiber internet service provider.
As he could not speak English, Filipino or Kampampangan when he first set foot in the Philippines, he had to start from Grade 1 at 11 years old while working as a handyman at Johnny’s Supermarket owned by his uncle. Smart and gifted with technical skills, he finished Grade school in three years and became the student council president at Chevalier High School.
Passionate about technology, he attended vocational courses in refrigeration and air-conditioning, general radio communications and electronics at Lorraine Technical School and took up Electrical Engineering at the Holy Angels University.
With business as his other passion, he teamed up with his brothers to establish Jack’s Video—a Betamax rental shop in 1983 while he was 16, sold computer units in schools and homes and put up Saver’s Appliance Store in 1985 which would later become a shopping mall.
Despite the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991 which led to the evacuation of US Air Force personnel from Clark, Uy decided to pursue his dream of establishing Angeles City Cable Television Network which started offering the service in Clark when it was converted into a special economic zone.
In 1996, he formed internet service provider ComClark Network and Technology Corp. and started building the first fiber link between Angeles City and Clark Special Economic Zone.
“As we slowly grew and started introducing new services, I began to notice that the Philippines was still behind in terms of internet speed, so I researched extensively. I used the cable networks I acquired before and provided connections in areas outside of Clark like Bulacan, Bataan, and Zambales. The goal eventually evolved as we tried to reach Metro Manila,” Uy says.
Beginnings of Converge
ComClark has evolved into Converge ICT. Today, Converge ICT employs more than 2,000 individuals who provide services to over a million residential subscribers. The company has a 25-percent household coverage across the Philippines, with 43-percent household coverage in Luzon.
On how Converge became a pioneer in the latest technologies, Uy says he frequently attended technology forums here and abroad and studies relevant innovations that he could bring to the Philippines. One such technology was micro-trenching, a process of creating a slot in the groundwork of an existing hard space to create a path for the installation and use of fiber optic cable lines. “With this technology, we were able to expand and our company became Converge as we know it today,” he says.
In 2009, Converge ICT secured a congressional franchise to operate as a telecommunications company. Three years later, it focused on broadband operations, providing high-speed fiber broadband to households and businesses. In 2019, the company raised a $225-million investment from New York-based Warburg Pincus to fund the expansion of its full-fiber optics network.
Uy says fiber optic internet is the faster, more reliable and more advanced solution to data transfer than the antiquated copper-based digital subscriber line and cable internet.
Uy says he had to overcome challenges along the way. The Uy family believes in the proverb, “There is always opportunity in times of adversity. If you are hardworking and persevering, nothing is impossible.”
“I believe that to be a successful entrepreneur, one must have a deep understanding of what you are doing. Know the industry you are in, whether retail, appliances or food. We are in the communications industry, and we have to be well-versed. We study the available offers, keep updated with technology, understand the market trends and the viability for the customer,” he says.
“As we continue to expand in Metro Manila, I knew that Converge will be up against already established telco companies in the industry. It is definitely not easy but what sets Converge apart is our focus and grit. We provide pure end-to-end fiber internet network in the country. The Filipino people are hungry for fast, reliable internet connection and we aim to address this by bringing our network to millions of Filipinos across the country,” he says.
In 2020, the company faced a huge challenge amid the pandemic as demand suddenly went up dramatically. The problems stemmed from an overwhelmed system with surging demand and a customer support team who were also quarantined and isolated in their homes.
“These growing pains pushed us to create a more resilient and reliable business organization. We increased the number of call center agents, purchased a fleet to manage installations and hired a seasoned customer service head to ensure that the issues are addressed,” he says.
“Our main challenge now is to be able to transform the organization to keep up with the fast growth. We are putting the right infrastructure with the support team to address the needs of our customers,” he says.
In October 2020, Converge ICT raised P25.3 billion from an initial public offering. The IPO meant greater things for the company. “Being a public company now means a greater need to transform the organization to be world-class. We have world-class investors and we have retail investors. We need to make sure we run this company with their interests in mind,” says Uy.
The company plans to spend P7.8 billion in net proceeds to build its proprietary end-to-end fiber network between 2021 and 2022. “For this year, we have allocated P20 billion for capital expenditures. Around 20 to 30 percent will be used to support the backbone infrastructure needed for the Visayas and Mindanao. The rest will fund the increase in fiber-to-the-home ports to deepen our network and other expenses such as further digitalization to support our customer experience team,” says Uy.
Converge ICT doubled its subscriber base in 2020 from the previous year and reached 1.04 million residential subscribers as of end-December 2020. “We are currently adding 70,000 subscribers per month, and this continues to accelerate allowing us to achieve record additions every month,” he says.
Uy says the company is well on track to meeting its goal of reaching over 15 million or 55 percent of Philippine households by 2025 and ready to serve the high-speed broadband requirements of the majority of the people. As of December 2020, Converge ICT recorded 6.1 million homes passed, accounting for 25 percent of total households.
“During the pandemic, we saw the surge in demand. This pushed us to scale up really fast. With the proper fundamentals in place, we were able to keep up with the need. We continue to strengthen our network and our customer experience capabilities. The next step for us is to push ahead with our Go National strategy, which is well on the way with our subsea fiber optic cables now being laid to reach the Visayas and Mindanao,” he says.
Uy says they will substantially complete their national fiber backbone by the first half of 2021. “We hope to commercially launch our services in the Visayas and Mindanao regions by the second half of the year so that we can reach more provinces in need of world-class fixed broadband services,” he says.
He says the goal is to further expand the fiber infrastructure network beyond Luzon and link the region to Visayas and Mindanao. As we continue to expand and to keep up with the increasing number of subscribers, we ensure to upgrade all of our services. This includes current efforts to have additional in-house repair teams, increased installation capacity and call center capacity, and more service channels such as the mobile app Converge Xperience,” he says.
The company’s rollout strategy is executed by construction management company MetroWorks ICT Construction Inc.
Uy says the digital transformation in the lifestyles of Filipinos will sustain the growth of Converge ICT. “We make sure to be strategic with our expansion plans, so we can serve the unserved and underserved areas in need of quality connection. I believe that expanding is a pursuit that every business aspires to do so. If there is an opportunity to expand, we consider how we can best take advantage of that, but it is also a matter of timing,” he says.
Aside from ICT, Uy eyes other businesses. “I am also interested in various industries, particularly in infrastructure and in data center gateways which can complement what we are currently doing. I am also interested in real estate,” he says.
Uy, who married Grace Yao in 1998, says he makes sure he manages time between family and business.
“Family is very important to us, which is why I reserve my weekends for them. There are times when I have to work on weekends, but as much as possible, I reserve that for them. On weekends, we like to go fishing. Because of the pandemic, we now only visit safe open spaces when we can. I also spend my free time reading up on the latest technology. I like to research and look for other innovations that we can bring to the Philippines,” says Uy.
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