As the pandemic impacted various aspects of Filipino lives--from students being unable to attend classes in their classrooms, to sports fans being unable to go to in-person sports events--technology has served to bridge the gap by bringing education and sports content right to their screens.
For college student Saramie Ortiz Flores, a BS Business Administration Student from the City of Malabon University, the Internet has been key to continuing her education despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
"With my daughter and I both attending online classes, it gets difficult sometimes. It came to a point where I wanted to quit and give up studying," Flores said. "But I reminded myself that I am so close to achieving my dreams, and that I also need to be an inspiration to my daughter. With connectivity at our fingertips, the pandemic will not be a hindrance for us to reach our dreams."
Smart Communications President and CEO and PLDT Chief Revenue Officer Alfredo S. Panlilio said that despite the pandemic, technology has allowed sports fans like him to continue to enjoy sports. "Sports is something close to my heart. We can use a lot of the attributes that we learn in sports--teamwork, striving for excellence, achieving shared goals--in the corporate world," he said. "The pandemic has had a major impact on sports, but technology has been able to bridge that gap. Fans can watch the games virtually. Technology brings them content. Technology has helped make certain events still happen despite the pandemic."
Driven by sustained demand for data as Filipinos like Flores increasingly turned to the Internet for their communication, education, entertainment, and livelihood needs, leading integrated telco PLDT's Consumer Wireless Business continued to post double-digit year-on-year growth.
"The continuing appetite for communicating through mobile phones, accessing information through the internet, streaming and downloading videos, saw the rapidly growing mobile phone internet user penetration in the Philippines double what was forecasted the past year," Panlilio said. "Smart works hard to meet this demand, allowing consumers access to high-speed internet at any given time and place, and enabling their passion points on top of it," he added.
Rising by 15% or P10.6 billion to P82.7 billion in 2020, PLDT's Consumer Wireless Business, which includes consumer sales of its Smart and TNT mobile brands, has sustained double-digit year-on-year growth since 2018.
Record investment into the network enabled the company to deliver services that satisfy the robust demand for mobile data, which accounted for 75% of Consumer Wireless revenues for 2020.
PLDT's fiber infrastructure, the country's most extensive at 429,000 kilometers as of end-2020, also supports Smart's mobile networks, the country's fastest mobile network, according to third-party analytics firm Ookla.
As of end-December 2020, Smart had increased the number of its base stations to over 59,000, an increase of 20% compared to end-2019. Smart's mobile network covers 96% of the population and offers the most extensive 4G coverage nationwide.
Average daily top-ups for 2020 were at an all-time high, rising 18% year-on-year. Smartphones now make up 78% of devices on the network, with 71% of devices overall being 4G/LTE.
With stronger data adoption and use, mobile data traffic totaled 2,881 petabytes for 2020, an increase of 79% from the previous year. On average, active mobile internet users used 8.26 GB per month, up from 6.3 GB in 2019.
Jane J. Basas, SVP and Head of Consumer Wireless Business at Smart, attributed these results to the increase in active customers. "We added several millions of customers who were engaged with us," she said, highlighting the growth of value brand TNT. "We saw a lot of growth as the need for data for work from home and study from home escalated in 2020," she said.
In 2020, Smart expanded its Giga product to include 3 new variants: GigaWork, GigaStudy, and Giga K-Video in response to the needs brought about by the pandemic. This year, Smart is enhancing its data packs as it foresees this appetite for data to further increase.
"Beginning January, we have enhanced our data packs because the needs of our customers for data solutions are becoming bigger," said Basas.
"At the start of the year, we launched Free Stories for All, where we doubled the data allocation every day for all the packs under the GIGA platform. We will continue to come up with more promos in succeeding months to respond to the needs of the market," she added.
To deliver excellent content to sports fans, Smart has also struck exclusive deals with the NBA to deliver NBA TV Philippines via NBA.Smart, while the UAAP will also be exclusively available on Mobile via Smart.
Also helping sustain the growth in mobile data consumption and revenues are partnerships with other global content providers like TikTok, Viu, Mnet, Moonton for Mobile Legends, Activision for Call of Duty, and Netflix.
In addition to introducing innovations and programs like the GigaPoints Rewards Program and GigaMania, which are both enabled by the GigaLife App, Smart has also maximized its LTE network to deliver a variety of world-class entertainment, e-sports tournaments, and other online events to its subscribers across the country through the GigaFest platform.
These initiatives form a major part of PLDT's capital expenditures, which totaled Php460.7 billion in the last ten years. To address the growing data needs of their fixed and wireless customers, PLDT and Smart are prepared to invest between Php 88 billion and Php 92 billion in capital expenditures in 2021.