Mobile Internet usage in the Philippines is growing rapidly on the back of the rising popularity of smartphones, tablets and other non-computer Web-enabled devices.
Mobile Internet revenues of leading wireless operator Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) for example doubled from half a billion last year to P1.1 billion as of September 2011.
“This explosive increase in mobile Internet usage among our subscribers indicates that as smartphones become more pervasive, more affordable and easier to use, more Filipinos use it to access the Internet and social media,” said Chief Wireless Advisor Orlando B. Vea.
The developments here are in line with trends overseas.
According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker released last week, the worldwide smartphone market grew 42.6% year on year in the third quarter of 2011.
The report also cited manufacturers such as Samsung, Apple, Nokia, HTC, and Research in Motion shipping an estimated 118.1 million units within the period.
A quick check on Asia Pacific trends suggests that global growth is being driven by spikes in the region.
A recent report from Google for example identifies Australia, which recently hit 37% smartphone penetration, as second in the world only to tech-loving Singapore – where 62% of the population own a smartphone.
Closer to home, Internet use in Indonesia is now second only to TV as a preferred channel for media consumption, a trend largely driven by the increasing availability of low-cost smartphones.
In the Philippines, Vea says the mobile internet is still in its early days. In the case of Smart, for example, about three million subscribers account for the bulk of mobile internet usage.
“We have a lot of headroom for growth. There are around two million more subscribers with 3G feature phones or smartphones who are not yet regularly accessing the web on the go,” Vea explained.
“Plus, there are another 15 to 16 million subscribers with Web-capable feature phones who we hope to migrate to smartphones that offer a better internet experience,” he added.
Over the past year, Smart has stepped up its efforts to promote smartphone adoption and usage. To this end, the telco has offered increasingly affordable data usage rates, and promoted access to the Internet in bite-sized chunks, via apps.
Smart’s most recent smartphone offering, the Android-powered, Netphone-edition Samsung Galaxy Y is flying off the shelves, driven by its affordable price and the built-in ‘SmartNet’ suite of free-of-charge, always-on social networking apps.
“Mobile connectivity has gone beyond being able to just call and text. Filipinos are intensely social. With social media penetration rate at 95%, virtually every Filipino that has access to the Web is on Facebook too,” added Vea.
According to the analysis and commentary site 24/7 Wall St., the Philippines now tops the list of countries where Facebook is the number one most visited website, beating even Google.
The country is also the eighth most popular country for Twitter use on a global scale, with a penetration rate of 16.1%. Social networking is so popular among Filipinos, the country has been called ‘the Social Networking Capital of the World’.
However, “the key that will truly unleash mobile Internet in the country is to let social go mobile,” added Vea.
The shift to mobile for social networking is already showing up in the numbers recently disclosed by Facebook and Twitter.
Of Facebook’s more than 800 million active users, about 350 million access the site through their mobile devices while about 55% of Twitter’s more than 100 million active monthly users access the microblogging site via mobile.
Smart has been aggressively pushing for mobile Internet in the last couple of years, as part of its ‘Internet for All’ advocacy. Together with PLDT, it has also embarked on a P67.1 billion network transformation program to support the rapidly growing demand for Internet services in both fixed and mobile networks.
Smart recently announced it has fired up over 1,200 Evolved High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) base stations, complementing a unique and superior matrix of 3G, WiMAX, and Long-Term Evolution (LTE) deployed in strategic areas.
This development created the country’s most pervasive high-speed mobile broadband network.
“Clearly, we have built the most advanced network in the country. This translates to an enhanced experience and mobile lifestyle for Smart subscribers, and this is especially so for mobile Internet users,” said Vea.
Smart also offers fixed wireless, 3G- and HSPA+-powered USB sticks and WiFi routers to provide a complete portfolio of Internet services that suit customers’ unique preferences.
“To us, the key is to expand the array of options and deliver as many access points to our subscribers as possible, at costs that are within their means, regardless of the device that they have in their hands or in their homes. Whoever you are and however you use the Internet, Smart makes it easier for you,” ended Vea.