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Smart pushes data usage innovation to drive cellular growth

Rising mobile data usage will power continued growth for leading wireless operator Smart Communications even as the cellular penetration rate approaches 100 percent in the second half of 2012. But this surge will come in the form of many “tiny bites of the Internet,” top Smart officials say.

In the first quarter of this year, mobile Internet usage of Smart subscribers surged by 71 percent versus a year ago.

The boost has come from the leap in sales of very popular smartphone handsets such as iPhones, and those from Samsung and Nokia featuring the full range of operating systems from Android to Windows Phone and iOS.

“The high-end handsets tend to get the most visibility, but the huge growth of mid- to low-end devices is just as important, if not more so, to our objective of putting the power of mobile Internet in the hands of more and more Filipinos,” said Emmanuel Lorenzana, head of Smart’s wireless consumer division.

As of end-March 2012, Smart had 50.5 million subscribers on its mobile network. Meanwhile, its broadband subscriber base stood at 1.6 million during the same period.

A big chunk of mobile internet usage consists of access to web content “in small snacks,” he explained.

“People check their Facebook or Twitter. They look up what movies are showing in which theater and what the traffic is like on EDSA. This is the Internet in small bites,” Lorenzana said.

Smart has helped mobile phone users to “web-snack” through its award-winning web-based platform called SmartNet.

Smartnet debuted as the mobile web service platform behind the Netphone, which was launched in September 2011. It enables users to chat with fellow SmartNet users, search and add contacts from the cloud, check on their Facebook and Twitter feeds, post updates and read articles.

"Since then, the number of SmartNet users had risen to about 320,000 as of end-June 2012. The figure is rising by over 20,000 weekly, partly because SmartNet has been made more easily available as an Android application that can be downloaded from Google Play,” said Lorenzana.

“SmartNet is quietly revolutionizing how Filipinos can use the Internet – affordably, conveniently, safely,” he added.

To support the proliferation of smartphones and data-capable feature phones, Smart has been aggressively marketing its various mobile internet service packages, particularly its Always Online services.

“Always online is gaining traction because it is affordable and fits the web-snacking mobile lifestyle of people,” Lorenzana said.

Underpinning this push into mobile internet is the P67-billion network modernization that PLDT and Smart are undertaking.

“We have led the industry and are far ahead of the competition in making our network the most extensive, reliable and 4G-capable,” Smart Chief Wireless Advisor Orlando B. Vea said. “We expect to complete this within the year while others are only starting to roll out.”

Smart has the largest and most pervasive cellular and broadband network and infrastructure in the country with 12,756 cellular/mobile broadband base stations providing coverage to over 99 percent of the population.

It is now working with sister-firm Sun Cellular to coordinate their network modernization efforts to support both call and text, and mobile broadband services.

Aside from expanding Smart’s 3G coverage, the PLDT Group’s modernization program is extending the reach of its HSPA and HSPA+ networks. It is also rolling out Long Term Evolution (LTE), the world’s fastest mobile broadband technology, in key urban centers of the country.

“LTE is the long-term game-changer. With this, Filipinos will have much greater access to the Internet – whether in big bites or small,” Vea said.

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