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Mobile data usage doubles amid increased video viewing, network upgrades

by Smart Communications | Mar 18, 2019
Individual segment service revenues, subs count up for first time in years
More LTE, LTE-A devices on Smart's network

PLDT’s wireless consumer business posted its 5th consecutive quarter of growth, as increased mobile data usage pushed individual service revenues to P62.5 billion, up by 7% year-on-year.

By end-2018, mobile data usage on Smart’s network had more than doubled to over 820 Petabytes compared to the previous year. Mobile data revenues surged to P37.6 billion, representing a 62-percent jump from last year, and accounting for 60% of the wireless consumer group’s revenues.

Posting its first annual service revenues increase in several years, PLDT’s individual wireless segment also registered for the first time in years an annual increase of 2.1 million in new subscribers, many of whom are data users.

“Online video viewing—YouTube in the case of mobile, and video on demand for the fixed line—was the compelling offer that powered the strong adoption of our fixed and mobile data services,” said Ernesto R. Alberto, PLDT and Smart Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer.

“As recent studies show, Filipinos are among the world’s most avid online video viewers. But that would not have been possible if PLDT and Smart had not invested heavily and worked very hard to roll out the country’s best fixed and mobile networks over the past three years,” Alberto added.

The take-off point

Cited as the “take-off point” of the wireless consumer group’s turnaround journey, the hugely successful YouTube promo ignited interest in video viewing among Smart, TNT and Sun customers.

Launched in April, the special offer gave an hour of free YouTube videos per day to Smart, TNT and Sun customers who bought qualified load packages. In the six months that the promo ran, the volume of YouTube traffic in the Smart network soared to nearly 15 times the level at the start of the offer.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, Smart and TNT launched new data packages with built-in “Video Everyday” content offers, spurring subscriber take-up and data usage further.

Network expansion

To support the heightened mobile data demand, Smart also increased the number of its LTE base stations by over 86% year-on-year to about 16,200 as of end-2018, while the number of 3G base stations on its network also increased by 17% to about 11,500. This massive deployment has enabled Smart to provide mobile broadband in at least 90% of the country’s cities and municipalities.

At the same time, Smart has also raised the pace of deployment of LTE-Advanced (LTE-A), which offers even faster mobile data speeds through carrier aggregation. About 70% of LTE-equipped sites across the country are already on LTE-A.

Meanwhile, PLDT has likewise expanded its total fiber network to over 244,000 kilometers. By end-2018, the coverage of its fiber-powered network passed 6.3 million homes, while total capacity reached 2.6 million ports.

PLDT’s fiber network, the most extensive in the country, also supports Smart’s mobile network by providing high-capacity links to cellular base stations.

The country’s best internet

Sustained network investments over the past few years have brought the business to a tipping point in 2018. For their integrated fixed and wireless network upgrades, PLDT and Smart have been recognized by third-party organizations such as Ookla, Opensignal and Tutela, in their respective crowd-source-based studies on internet services in the country.

In its latest report covering Q3 and Q4 of 2018, Ookla, the global leader in fixed and mobile broadband network testing and analysis, said that PLDT and Smart are the country’s fastest fixed and mobile networks.

Ookla said Smart earned a Speed Score of 15.57, with an average download speed of 17.86 Mbps and an average upload speed of 8.61 Mbps. Meanwhile, PLDT fixed broadband attained a speed score of 18.57, with a top download speed of 52.28 Mbps and a top upload speed of 55.95 Mbps. These latest test results are improvements from the scores in Q1 and Q2 2018, when Smart posted a Speed Score of 14.98 and PLDT attained a score of 17.31.

On the other hand, leading mobile internet analyst firm Opensignal said in its March 2019 report that Smart won four out of its five Mobile Experience Awards – Video Experience, Download Speed, Upload Speed and Latency. The report said that the difference between the two Philippine mobile operators was particularly stark in the video experience category where “Smart users are clearly enjoying better overall video quality, with faster loading times and fewer interruptions during playback.”

In its February 2019 report on the state of mobile networks in Southeast Asia, Canadian crowd-sourced mobile data company Tutela said Smart led the competition based on its metric called “consistent quality score” which tracks the percentage of time users can experience either “excellent” or “basic quality” connections. Tutela reported that Smart posted an excellent quality score of 48.8% versus the competition’s 23.8%. That means Smart users were twice as likely to experience excellent data connections, which are needed for heavy data uses like video viewing.

“Given these independent, third-party studies, it is indisputable that PLDT and Smart are today delivering the fastest and best quality fixed and mobile broadband internet services in the country. We are building on that competitive edge by further investing in our networks in 2019,” said Mario G. Tamayo, Senior Vice President for network planning and engineering for PLDT and Smart.

Massive capex

For 2019, PLDT and Smart are undertaking yet another massive capital expenditures program by allocating up to P78.4 billion budget in 2019, P20 billion higher than the previous year. This is intended to push further the already significant network advantage of PLDT and Smart, and to support an active campaign for more revenues.

This capex budget also includes a substantial allocation for “Customer Capex”, which is intended for the purchase of last-mile and customer-premises equipment like modems and also the acquisition of vehicles, equipment and office space for the new corps of technicians being assembled to fast-track the installation and repair of fixed broadband connections.