MANILA, Philippines – A year after Filipinos took to Facebook and other social networks to send Christmas and New Year messages to friends and loved ones, good old text messaging and dialing a call made a comeback.
In the recent holiday season — Christmas 2011 and New Year 2012 — the giant local telecommunication firms noted that Filipinos returned to the traditional modes of communicating using the ubiquitous mobile phone.
Calls and numbers of SMS sent (short message service) grew during the period, complementing a still sustained seasonally high internet use.
Officials of the two biggest telcos providers in the country — Smart Communications, the mobile arm of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), and Ayala-led Globe Telecom — attributed this to unlimited offerings or bucket plans and previous capital investments that led to better network performance.
Likewise, industry regulator National Telecommunications Commission barred the firms from suspending any promos during the recent holidays, unlike in the 2010 holidays. At the time, the telcos suspended most of the unlimited call and text offerings in a bid to prevent network congestion.
Voice and text
PLDT noted that “SMS usage was stronger than expected” during the recent holidays. PLDT spokesperson Ramon Isberto did not provide additional details on SMS traffic, but he attributed the hike to “growing popularity of bucket and unli packages and to the significant investments we have made on our wireless network that improved our broadband, voice, and sms capacity, coverage and resiliency.”
PLDT is the country’s largest phone firm with more than 48 million mobile phone users.
Rival Globe Telecom reported the same trend. In a statement on Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, the Ayala-led firm noted that voice traffic during the 2011-2012 holiday period increased by an average of 17%.
Globe said that it recorded a 40% increase in voice traffic on the eve of Christmas day (Dec. 25, 2011); 63% the following day; 38% on the eve of New Year’s day; and 70% the next day.
On the other hand, SMS traffic increased by an average of 13% on the same period compared to 2010, according to Globe.
This is a reversal of the year-ago performance. On December 24, 25, 31 in 2010 and January 1, 2011, both Smart and Globe noted a slowdown in SMS traffic.
Globe reported a 6% decline year-on-year on December 24; 12% on December 25; and 9% on December 31 and January 1, 2011.
Smart claimed that SMS traffic went up on the same days albeit not as high as it used to be in the past years when handsets then still lack the capability to connect to the Internet.
The sad decline of numbers of SMS sent started in 2009, when Filipinos sent an estimated 1.8 billion SMS messages every day.
On December 24 and 31, 2009, Smart monitored nearly a billion SMS daily while Globe handled about 800 million.
In a normal day in 2010, Globe said that it handled about 400 to 500 million text messages while Smart processed about 800 million a day. No figures for 2011 were available as of press time.
The growing Internet use, which includes broadband and mobile browsing, was identified as the reason for the decline in the number of SMS sent and voice calls made during the past holiday season.
Smart and Globe both noticed that Internet-based services were more widely used to send greetings on December 24, 25, 31 of 2010 and January 1, 2011.
Globe noted that data usage during those dates increased by an average of 57% from the previous year. Globe president Ernest Cu attributed this to their broadband and mobile data offerings.
Globe’s Cu added that its subscribers preferred surfing via their laptops and mobile devices to send their holiday greetings through various instant messaging and social networking sites during Christmas and New Year.
Indeed, social networking websites started undermining some of the traffic patterns, noted one analyst. “It looks likes that the volume of text messages was already at its peak in 2009 as social networking websites started undermining SMS pattern as recorded in the past years.”
Cu said, “We will remain proactive in coming up with offers, as well as technologies, that are attuned to the needs of the market as part of our thrust on superior customer experience.”
The Philippine telecommunication sector has been contributing more than 10% to the country’s GDP or gross domestic product, a measure of the local economy’s size.
The mobile segment has driven the industry to mind-boggling, even triple-digit, growth rates in some years over the last decade, until growth in mobile subscribers started to decline in 2009. The slower pace of mobile subscribers’ take up this 2012 is expected to continue as the market matures.
The changing complexion of the sector has led to consolidation, namely the acquisition of a controlling stake of the Gokongwei group in third-liner Digital Telecommunications (Digitel) by giant PLDT. The two entities now control about 70% of the local market.
As the sector evolves into a new era that marries Internet content with mobile handsets, the telecom firms themselves have been offering affordable mobile units.
Both PLDT and Globe have also embarked on network modernization programs to increase capacity and improve network quality to meet the growing demand for bandwidth-heavy services such as broadband and mobile data.
The PLDT group is undertaking a two-year, P67-billion network transformation program, while Globe has a five-year $790 million spending plan to upgrade its network. – Rappler.com