Smart offers free Internet to prepaid subscribers

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Smart announced Friday, September 26, that it would be offering a limited-time promotion for all its prepaid subscribers.

After saying on Twitter that he had a big announcement to make, Manuel "Manny" V. Pangilinan, chairman of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) declared on Friday, September 26, that prepaid subscribers of Smart, Talk N' Text, and Sun Cellular can now avail of mobile Internet services offered by the 3 networks – for free.

"That's better than politics," Pangilinan quipped, referring to speculations that his announcement would be on his reported decision to run in the 2016 elections.

Pangilinan said this is an initiative to make mobile Internet available for all, adding that his company's  wireless group has been spending P150 billion ($3.35 billion*) in capital expenditure to improve and democratize mobile Internet services in the country.

“We are launching this initiative to provide a much larger number of Filipinos the opportunity to try out and experience the Internet, enjoy its benefits and, as we at Smart like to say, ‘live more,’” Pangilinan said.

Napoleon Nazareno, PLDT president and chief executive officer, said: “Only one-third is using the Internet. That is the objective, to get them into the Internet. This is the opportunity we are looking at, trying to democratize data.”

To date, Smart, Talk N'Text, and Sun Cellular have a combined total subscribers of 66 million. Nazareno estimates that about 20 million of these subscribers have smartphones, and 14 to 15 million of them are already using mobile Internet.

The free yet finite data usage starts today, September 26, and will run until November 30. Subscribers can use data up to 30MB a day. They need to have a minimum of P1 ($0.22)  to avail of the offer.

Nazareno said there might be forgone revenues in the process, but they are banking on the decreasing cost of data-capable phones to attract more people to use the services available on mobile Internet.

Pre-paid subscribers of the 3 mobile networks can now search Google, Wikipedia; use Google Maps and Waze for navigation; shop on Amazon, eBay, Lazada, Zalora; browse Instagram; and reserve taxi via Grab Taxi or Easy Taxi. 

They can also listen to songs via Smart’s Spinnr music; book their trips via Expedia and Skyscanner; send, and receive emails, either through data-capable feature phones or smartphones running on Google Android, Apple iOS, and Microsoft Windows Phone OS.

Smart also said users have a daily 30MB stipend for the free Internet they will be getting. This excludes VOIP and messaging apps like Viber and Whatsapp, as well as video streaming websites. Peer-to-peer file sharing is likewise not a part of this free Internet offer.

The speed of the connection is going to be limited by the device or handset being used by the subscriber. Location, time of use, and the type of connectivity they can get – 2G, 3G, or 4G – will also be limiting factors. The minimum speed, however, is set to 12 kilobits per second (kbps).

Active Smart prepaid subscribers can take advantage of the promotion by texting FREE to 9999. To get free Internet daily, they must text the number daily to continue free access.

Globe Telecom revives free Facebook offer

Pangilinan's announcement intensified the war between telecommunications giants Smart and Globe.

At 7:08 pm September 26, Globe tweeted and posted on its Instagram account that it is reviving its free Facebook offer starting week of September 28. Further details to follow, the firm announced.

Hours after Pangilinan’s announcement, rival telecommunications company Globe telecom released a statement saying it is “flattered and honored” that their competitors are following their lead.

In a statement, the Ayala-led firm reminded that they were the first to roll out free Internet services like Facebook from October 2013 to April 2014.

Globe added that in the end, the customers will choose the telecommunications provider with the best digital services and the fastest experience possible.

“Amid all the hype and promotions, we are happy in the fact that, at Globe, we deliver both.…We look forward to more vigorous competition to come! Stay tuned,” Globe said. – with reports from Mick Basa, Lynda C. Corpuz, and Victor Barreiro Jr / Rappler.com