(Published in The Manila Times 500, May 2021)
“Scaling roofs and mountains, Philippine students battle to take online classes” – this is how international news agency, Reuters, headlined in January 2021 the state of mobile internet access among students in a poor neighborhood in Manila. The online news shows a picture which describes “Jhay Ar Calma, 10, a grade 5 student”, who “sits on the roof of his home as he takes part in an online class using a tablet, due to weak internet connection in his area”.
The pandemic forced students and employees alike conduct their schooling and work at home, as quarantine protocols halted face-to-face meetings in schools, while limiting movement of majority of the workers. These resulted in a gobbling of huge amounts of internet data among Filipinos.
In fact, mobile data traffic in Globe Telecom’s network soared to 2,517 petabytes in 2020 from 1,699 petabytes in 2019, which translates to a 48% growth year-on-year, according to Yoly Crisanto, Head of Corporate Communications at Globe Telecom.
On the other hand, PLDT shared that the mobile data traffic in its network was at 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, PLDT further said.
These are huge jumps in mobile internet traffic last year. No wonder why, at the onset of the lockdown during the second quarter of 2020, social media and news outlets were inundated with stories and anecdotes of the struggle of Filipinos to study, work, and communicate through mobile internet.
That’s why in July 2020 during the State of the Nation Address, President Duterte threatened telcos of expropriation or government control of their assets if they fail to improve internet speeds before the end of 2020.
The telcos stepped up. Smart Communications, the mobile arm of PLDT, and Globe reaped the benefits of the Joint Memorandum Circular signed by the DICT, DILG, and Anti-Red Tape Authority in August 2020 which fast-tracked the usance of local government unit (LGU permit to build cell sites.
Globe was able to secure 1,857 permits for 2020, which allowed it to put up close to 1,300 new towers in 2020 (versus 1,100 in 2019) as well as upgrade 11,529 sites with 4G/LTE (versus 10,135 in 2019), according to Globe. Moreover, Globe expects to add at least 2,000 new sites to its portfolio by the end of 2021.
As with Smart, since the issuance of the Joint Memorandum Circular, Smart has secured over 1,600 permits to build more cell sites and rollout Smart is rolling out an additional 2,000 cell sites in 2021 to accelerate the telco’s goal in improving customer experience across the country, according to PLDT Chief Revenue Officer and Smart Communications President and CEO Al Panlilio
We have seen perceptible improvements in mobile internet speeds at the start of 2021. In the latest Speedtest Global Index report of Ookla in January 2021, the internet download speeds in mobile and fixed broadband are 25.77mbps and 32.73mbps, respectively. These are big jumps from the August 2020 report, which pegged the mobile and fixed broadband internet speeds at 16.44mbps and 25.34mbps, respectively.
The author is CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the Country Representative of the Institute of Change and Transformation Professionals Asia (ICTPA) and Fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org