Smart data users up

Entrepreneur Pamela Tura-Quirante has been selling apparel, poultry products, and food via Facebook. With the COVID-19 health crisis and community quarantines affecting her husband's job, the internet is more important than ever. “The internet and technology now play a huge part in our lives. Online selling has been very helpful for our livelihood,” she said.

Pamela is among the growing number of Filipino data users who use the internet and Facebook for work, communication, and entertainment, among others.  

Over the past year, PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications Inc. (Smart) has added more data users, as its GIGA data packages continue to gain greater customer acceptance.

Nearly 50% of the group’s subscribers are now regular data users, which has been steadily increasing since 2018.   

This was spurred by Smart's launch of several GIGA data packages, including GIGA Stories, which have enabled customers to keep sharing their content on Facebook and other social media channels like Instagram and Twitter.

Other data packages include GIGA Video, GIGA Games, and the recently launched GIGA Work and GIGA Study data offers.  Smart also recently unveiled GIGA PRO, which includes a generous combination of open access data allocation plus 3 GB per day of any GIGA offer, whether GIGA Video, Study, Work, Games, or Stories.

These have helped the company rapidly build up its mobile data business by offering a series of products that address the passion points and the work and study needs of mobile phone customers.

Mobile data traffic growth

Driven by customer demand for video, social media and mobile games, mobile data traffic more than doubled from a year ago to 1.3 exabytes (1,368 PB) in the first half of 2020. 

Rising data usage has continued to power the revenue growth of PLDT’s consumer wireless individual business despite pandemic restrictions during the period.  

The consumer wireless individual group posted P39.8 billion in revenues in the first half of the year, up by 16% year-on-year. Data accounted for 73% of the total Consumer Wireless revenues, up from 66% in the first half of 2019 and 45% in the comparable period in 2018.  

Brand ambassadors 

In June, Smart gave its Simple, Smart Ako brand campaign a tremendous boost when it unveiled South Korean actor Hyun Bin as the new Smart brand ambassador. This was followed in August by the announcement that South Korean actress Son Ye-Jin is the new face of Smart Signature, Smart’s postpaid brand. These announcements excited Filipino K-drama fans who followed the pair in the hit Korean TV series “Crash Landing on You”. 

“We are combining the power of Smart’s fastest mobile data services with the joy of our customers’ passion points like esports, the NBA and K-dramas,” says Jane J. Basas, Senior Vice President and Head of Consumer Wireless Business at Smart. 

“Both Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin are perfect Smart ambassadors because their popularity among Filipinos has been driven by digital connectivity. They also embody our growing efforts to enrich our data services with content and solutions that engage and empower our customers,” Basas added.

Smart’s 5G service also went live as a commercial service on July 30, initially for its postpaid subscribers and in selected areas of Metro Manila. Smart also made available its initial batch of 5G mobile phones that are certified to work best on its 5G network. This was in the wake of the unveiling of Gariath Concepts as the first Smart 5G-powered esports gaming hub in the country. 

Smart has also announced a groundbreaking partnership with the NBA Basketball League through the launch of NBA.Smart, a portal that enables subscribers to watch live NBA TV anywhere, anytime. 

“The commercial launch of 5G underscores our commitment to bring the best digital technologies to the Philippines. By combining 5G with 4G/LTE, Smart WiFi and fiber, PLDT and Smart together are providing the country with the widest range of powerful connectivity services as the country’s only fully integrated telecoms and digital services provider,” said Alfredo S. Panlilio, Smart President and CEO and PLDT Chief Revenue Officer. 

Resilient networks 

Enabling this level of performance are PLDT and Smart’s robust integrated fixed and wireless networks, which were able to handle the sharp surge of internet traffic as people worked and studied at home, and as businesses relied on online services to keep serving their own customers during the quarantine period. From February to May, mobile data traffic on Smart’s network jumped about 30%, while PLDT’s fixed broadband data traffic rose around 20% during the same period.  

There was also a major shift in data traffic away from the commercial business districts (CBDs) which have existing built-up network capacity to the less well-provisioned residential areas. These factors adversely impacted the speed and availability of internet services immediately after the lockdown. 

In response, the network teams of PLDT and Smart quickly implemented targeted expansions of capacity outside the CBDs and boosted the capacity of its international internet cable systems by 65%.  

In the first half of 2020, Smart increased the number of its LTE base stations by 10% compared to end-2019. It also increased the capacity of its LTE network by reallocating its assigned 1800 Mhz frequency from 2G to 4G/LTE. As a result, 3,785 Smart base stations are now providing additional capacity for its LTE network.

Smart’s mobile network is supported by PLDT’s fiber infrastructure, which provides high-capacity links to LTE base stations and is now nearly 360,000 kilometers nationwide.

As a result of these network upgrade efforts, PLDT and Smart have once more been found to have the country's fastest fixed and mobile internet networks by Ookla, the global leader in internet testing and analysis.

Based on analysis of tests taken with Speedtest® covering the first half of 2020. Ookla reported that Smart posted a Speed ScoreTM of 18.33 for the period Q1-Q2 2020, while PLDT achieved a Speed Score of 24.79, both significantly higher than competition. 

The PLDT Group’s network investments, which totaled some Php260 billion over the past five years from 2015-19, have enabled its networks to carry the exponential growth in traffic and to bring new technologies such as LTE and 5G. Amid the regained momentum of its network rollout efforts following the easing of lockdown restrictions, PLDT has leveled up its target capital expenditures for 2020 back up to about Php70 billion.