The PLDT wireless group posted a 59-percent increase in mobile data revenues — from P3.1 billion in 2012 to P5 billion in 2013 — indicating the continuous growth of mobile Internet usage in the country.
Officials of Smart Communications and Digitel Mobile Philippines Inc. (DMPI) expect sustained mobile Internet uptake in the coming months with the entry of more affordable smartphones and the introduction of low-denomination data packages.
?We believe that we have only scratched the surface when it comes to data ? smartphone penetration is at 15 percent and this can only grow further with the wide range of handset models projected to enter the market this year,? said Orlando B. Vea, chief wireless advisor of Smart and president and chief executive officer of DMPI which operates the mobile brand Sun Cellular.
?Moreover, we have a slew of products and services in the pipeline, some developed in-house and others in partnership with OTTs (over-the-top players), that will encourage subscribers to leave their data ?always on? without fear of overspending or overbilling,? he added.
Smart president and CEO Napoleon L. Nazareno also said there is big potential for growth in the mobile data space, as not all Filipinos who owned smartphones in 2013 had data subscriptions.
?There is a strong need to democratize mobile data usage, and we are serving this need by offering affordable data sachets that allow subscribers to pay only for the data required to access specific Internet services that are relevant to them,? he said.
Last December, Smart launched in beta the PowerApp mobile application which lets users avail of Photo, Social, Chat, Email, and Unli mobile data packages for as low as P5.
Users who want the unlimited mobile Internet experience can subscribe to the Unli package, available at P30 per day or P15 for three hours.
?Because our market is predominantly prepaid, we are focusing on unlocking broadband potential at the prepaid level. We are optimistic that the affordable and relevant packages offered through PowerApp will spur data consumption among our prepaid subscribers and contribute significantly to our goal of making mobile Internet accessible to more Filipinos,? Nazareno said.
At the same time, Smart also said it is set to expand its 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) footprint this year to cover all major cities of the country and 25 more municipalities.
This move is seen to extend the reach of Smart?s 4G LTE network to close to 50 percent of the country?s population. 4G refers to the fourth generation of mobile communications technology, which includes HSPA+, Wimax and LTE, with LTE being the fastest commercially available mobile Internet service in the world, offering data speeds of up to 20 times more rapid than 3G connections.
With such data speeds, users are able to stream high definition (HD) videos, download large files or upload photos and videos on their mobile devices without lag or delay.
?We are expecting a tremendous growth in data traffic, and we hope to sustain the pace of our aggressive LTE roll-out in order to keep up with the demand of our subscribers,? said Rolando G. Pe?a, technology head for Smart and its parent company PLDT.
?Around the world, telecommunications companies are strategically shifting their focus to data services, and Smart is no exception. We are beefing up our systems and investing in the latest technologies to future-proof our network and keep our services relevant,? Pe?a said.
Up to P32 billion capex for 2014
In a recent presentation, Nazareno revealed that the company is earmarking up to P32 billion, or between 18 to 20 percent of its service revenues, for capital expenditures in 2014.
Aside from expanding its 4G LTE coverage, the amount would be used to boost Smart?s 3G coverage from 71 percent to 100 percent of the population, increase the PLDT Group?s fiber footprint from 78,000 kilometers to 90,000 kilometers and invest in a new international cable system by the end of the year.
This year?s capex also includes investments in necessary enhancements to strengthen network infrastructures in the face of severe weather disturbances.
?After our experience with super typhoon Yolanda, it is imperative for businesses to adapt to the reality of climate change,? said Nazareno.
?We are investing in necessary support systems and innovative designs so our base stations may withstand 300 kph winds,? he added.
Apart from network enhancements, Smart is set to continue investing in new service delivery platforms and network intelligence.
Last month, Smart conducted a successful video multicast of a live event over LTE, which is a first in the country and in Southeast Asia. When fully developed, the emerging technology called the evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services, will allow people to watch clear, lag-free video content ? whether live or on-demand ? on their smartphones and tablets wherever they are, whenever they want.
Last August, Smart also successfully conducted the country?s first trial of LTE-Advanced, which can support data services with speeds of from 100 to 400 Mbps.
Aside from LTE, Smart also offers HSPA+ and WiMax as part of its suite of 4G technologies.