Mobile phones : More than just for texting and calling

In the world of modern telecommunications, the mobile phone or cell phone virtually has become the most important item in the life of a person – young and old alike.

Mobile phone remains to be the largest communication, information and entertainment portable device with 2.3 billion users worldwide.

Globally, particularly in the Philippines, text messaging remains as the most popular mobile phone application. The Philippines can truly claim to be the text messaging capital of the world.

But as most advanced mobile phone enhancements and user generated content-enabling features such as Internet browsing, e-mail, camera/video and music player capabilities gain popularity, the connected Filipinos are using their cell phones for multiple purposes.

Downloading, creating and sharing content using their cell phones are turning out to be the latest trends among Filipinos.

The potential of cell phones as an entertainment device grows stronger as sophisticated multimedia handsets, mobile content and services generate excitement in the market.

Napoleon L. Nazareno, Smart Communications, Inc. President and CEO, said text messaging, or the so-called short messaging service (SMS), is the most rudimentary form of mobile data and its popularity here augurs well for the future growth of mobile data.

The telecom industry is going through a rapid, dramatic transformation, the cellular phone business just a few years ago was entirely a voice business, then with the arrival of GSM, it became a voice and text, and now, it is becoming a voice, text and wireless service business, Nazareno said.

He added, SMS is suited to the non-confrontational culture of Filipinos who have no difficulty on the keypads of cellular phones.

As of end April 2008, Smart, the leading service provider, recorded net additions of 280,000 subscribers and Talk N Text added about 1.25 million subscribers to end the period with 20.6 million and 11 million subscribers, respectively, or a total of 31.6 million subscribers. Currently, Smart surpassed the subscriber base of 32 million mark.

Despite the increasingly difficult economic environment, Smart sustained its strong subscriber numbers as we preserved with our efforts at finding creative solutions and meet our market needs, Nazareno added.

As lifestyle become more and more mobile, people all over the world tend to rely more on mobile communications and 3G could not have come at a better time.

3G is shorthand for the next generation of mobile communications networks running on the WCDMA (wireless code division multiple access) platform. On top of the SMS, MMS, GPRS, and voice calls, this technology allows for faster data transmission speeds, making possible high-speed data communications and mobile multimedia services such as video conferencing, audio streaming and mobile Internet.

Smart has launched its 3G on February 14, 2006 in selected key cities nationwide, making it the first and only mobile operator in the country. It has been visible in Metro Manila, Baguio City, Boracay, Cebu, Iloilo, continuously expanding in other key cities and major towns in the country. It is also offered in schools and universities such as De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila, and other schools in the provinces.

Smart has spent $ 300 million over a five-year period for the roll-out of its 3G. About $ 60 million was spent in 2006 and 2007. It has set aside P33 billion for its planned capital expenditure (CAPEX) in six years.

On the other hand, Globe Telecom has earmarked $ 100 million for the roll-out of its 3G network in 2006 and included using 700 up to 1,000 cell sites, prioritizing Metro Manila as initial target and tapping city-based subscribers for the roll-out.

In opening the 3G floodgates, the Philippines joins 42 countries that have already built a total of 100 3G and WCDMA networks, many of which already have the corresponding commercial services in place.

In order to offer wide range of 3G technology to its subscribers, Smart has sought additional 3G frequencies from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

It wants the assignment of the 825 to 835 megahertz and 870 to 880 megahertz bandwidth. Its current 3G frequency assignment falls within the 1920 to 1935 megahertz and 2110 to 2125 megahertz range.

By 2010, 24 percent of mobile subscribers in the world will use 3G, according to the forecasts of Informa. Portio Research predicts that by 2011, the United States and Western Europe will see over 50 percent subscriber penetration of 3G. The Asia Pacific will have only 35 percent, albeit with 1.06 billion subscribers by 2011, it will be the largest regional 3G market in the world.

After putting the mobile phone in the hands of millions, Smart has sparked the next revolution for the Filipinos this time to democratize access to Internet. Through its wholly-owned subsidiary Smart Broadband, Inc. (SBI), it launched a prepaid wireless broadband service, Smart Bro Prepaid, making the World Wide Web available to a broader segment of the population affordable sachet pricing, nationwide coverage, and easy loading.

Orlando B. Vea, Chief Wireless Adviser of Smart, said The Internet is the new cellular and just as we have put the mobile phone in most people’s hands, so we will make the Internet accessible to all.

Vea is the founder of Smart and was the first President and CEO when the then start-up company changed the Philippine telecoms landscapes with its affordable mobile phone service.

Smart Bro Plug-It can be hooked into a desktop PC or laptop. It is actually a radio receiver that connects the user to Smart’s nationwide wireless broadband network.

“Internet access has become a must for any country’s development. It has become a basic tool for communications, education, commerce, social interaction, governance and the delivery of social services, Vea said.

However, the Philippines has one of the lowest Internet penetration among the poor countries in the region. Unserved demand for Internet access is estimated at 15 million connections.

With low-priced new and used PC now in the market, affordable access is seen as the solution to the unserved demand for Internet connections.