July 14, 2022

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Valuable drivers of Philippines’ connectivity

The past two years saw a heightened need for reliable and steady connectivity, whether one is at home or outside, especially as digital is further embedded into consumers’ lifestyles. The call for telecommunications companies to attend to that demand was even raised by the previous President in his State of the Nation Address in 2020.

Among those providers that have recognized and responded to such increased demand is the PLDT Group, chaired by Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP).

In his message in PLDT’s most recent annual report, Mr. Pangilinan noted that the group is thriving on new historic highs in spite of the “hyper-competition” in telco and financial technology (fintech), as well as the onslaught of Super Typhoon Odette before 2021 ended.

“Amid the calamity and continuing pandemic, we transformed and performed. Addressing the sustained and shifting demands for connectivity, we scaled new all-time highs on revenues and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization),” the chairman wrote. “We expanded our fixed and mobile networks nationwide, powering more hybrid workspaces and online learning, enabling more businesses to thrive.”

The PLDT Home unit, to begin with, was seen with notable growth, enabled by a fast-tracked nationwide fiber rollout, which led to an increased pace of installations. Exceeding original targets, PLDT’s total fixed broadband customers reached a record-high of nearly three million, a growth of 30% year-on-year (y-o-y). Total fiber capacity of PLDT Home now stands at 5.77 million ports following the completion of 1.7 million fiber ports last year.

From previously P29.3 billion, PLDT Home’s revenues grew 24% to P47.8 billion, which is another record for the particular business. Fiber revenues grew 82% y-o-y to P33 billion, while broadband revenues grew 29%.

Likewise, the Enterprise business of PLDT has performed well in helping businesses and organizations “build back better” in the new normal. In 2021, the corporate business unit earned P42.2 billion, up by 4% from 2020, with fourth-quarter (Q4) earnings surpassing P11 billion for the first time.

Alfredo S. Panlilio, president and chief executive officer of both PLDT and Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), noted that within data/broadband revenues, information and communications technology (ICT) and corporate data increased by 14% and 6% y-o-y, respectively.

“Wireless Enterprise revenues increased significantly beyond mere connectivity, rising on the back of wireless solutions availed of by enterprise clients,” he added in his message in the group’s annual report.

Furthermore, Mr. Panlilio stressed, the enterprise business seeks to outperform last year’s feats as PLDT’s ICT arm ePLDT, Inc. invests in building its digital transformation domain expertise through the construction of what is seen to be the largest data center campus in the country.

“The soon-to-rise LEED certified, Tier-3 Certified, and Tier-4 Ready hyperscale facility in PLDT’s five-hectare property in the booming industrial city of Sta. Rosa, Laguna will be the most robust facility in our suite of 11 data centers,” the president and CEO explained. “A facility of this caliber only ensures the best possible customer experience not only for our hyperscaler clients, but also for the Filipino end-users consuming their services.”

BW File Photo

Smart, PLDT’s wireless arm, also saw sustained performance in 2021, with full-year revenues of P86.2 billion, 80% of which were contributed by data and broadband. Also, Smart’s 42.6 million active data users posted double-digit growth of 11% y-o-y.

“Strategic brand building campaigns and product innovations, funneled mainly to more than 10 million users of Smart’s GigaLife mobile app, increased brand relevance and enabled stronger customer digital adoption,” Mr. Panlilio added.

Moreover, fifth-generation (5G) technology is seen to be driving the individual wireless business in the years ahead, with data traffic on Smart’s 5G network seen to have grown in Q4 2021 by 72% quarter-on-quarter and over 33 times more y-o-y.

“This growth was driven by aggressive 5G handset and usage offers of Smart Signature, the launch of Smart Bro’s 5G Rocket Wifi, and the Unli 5G offers via the prepaid brands,” Mr. Panlilio wrote, adding that investments in 5G will be maximized moving forward.

PLDT Group’s delivery of connectivity has been recognized by international user-based studies. Smart won Ookla’s Speedtest Awards for Q3-Q4 2021 with a Speed Score of 201.95, while PLDT is regarded the “fastest broadband” in the country  during the same period with a Speed Score of 77.24.

Also, in Opensignal’s first 5G Experience Report for the Philippines, Smart wins outright in five out of seven categories: 5G Availability, 5G Download Speed, 5G Upload Speed, 5G Video Experience, and 5G Games Experience.

Not only is PLDT Group progressing in connectivity, but it has also been an active participant in the fintech space by maximizing the synergies between PLDT, Smart, and PayMaya, the group’s financial technology affiliate, which has recently rebranded as Maya — around six months after Voyager Innovations, Inc. (Maya’s operator) secured a digital bank license.

“With PLDT and Smart’s unrivaled network and PayMaya’s unique end-to-end financial services ecosystem, we are making the everyday lives of Filipinos better through technology,” Mr. Pangilinan wrote.

“Powered by our robust integrated network, PayMaya’s end-to-end financial services ecosystem is expected to make digital payments and e-commerce more accessible to PLDT and Smart customers, aligned with our group-wide commitment to bring world-class services to more Filipinos,” Mr. Panlilio noted.

PLDT’s annual report highlighted that PayMaya garnered 44 million registered customers and half-a-million points of acceptance nationwide as of end-2021. Part of these touchpoints is Smart Padala centers, with over 63,000 agent network touchpoints that largely cater to grassroots communities.

Outside the PLDT Group, Radius Technologies, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary by the MVP-chaired MERALCO, has leveraged fiber technology to make enterprises, businesses, and homes more connected.

Under an agreement inked in 2020, the company partnered with pay TV service provider Cignal TV to roll out RED Fiber, a bundle of fiber internet and pay TV services.

Radius also launched its Optical Transport Network Suite in April last year. According to a statement from Radius, this suite “leverages a next-generation, industry-leading network protocol that provides an efficient and a globally accepted way to multiplex different services onto optical light paths, offering up to 200 Gbps (gigabits per second) of network capacity to customers.” — Adrian Paul B. Conoza