By Lara Climaco | FilAm Star Correspondent
More and more millennials are gaining access to a digital lifestyle and by next year, the Philippines could emerge as a “gigabit society” with fixed broadband in Filipino homes capable of 1-gigabit-per-second internet speeds. But as of the first quarter of this year, internet speed in the country is still rated the slowest in the Asia Pacific region despite double-digit gains.
In its latest State of the Internet Connectivity Report, Akamai Technologies said that the Philippines had the lowest average connection speed out of the 15 Asia-Pacific countries included in its survey during the first quarter of the year. The country’s average was 5.5 megabits per second (Mbps), which represents a 20 percent increase from last year’s fourth quarter and a 57 percent improvement from the comparative year-ago level. India was also a bottom dweller at 6.5 Mbps.
In contrast, South Korea — the global leader for this metric — had an average connection speed of 28.6 Mbps. Within Southeast Asia, Singapore had the highest average at 20.3 Mbps. It is ranked 7th globally. Thailand’s average was at 16 Mbps, Vietnam at 9.5 Mbps, Malaysia at 8.9 Mbps and Indonesia at 7.2 Mbps. Among East Asian countries, next to South Korea is Hong Kong with average connection speed at 21.9 Mbps (global rank number 4) during this year’s first quarter. Levels reported for Japan, Taiwan and China were 20.2 Mbps, 16.9 Mbps and 7.6 Mbps, respectively.
“Although the Philippines has the lowest ranking among Asia Pacific countries/regions for this metric, as well as some of the broadband adoption metrics, first quarter announcements suggest it may see improvements to its infrastructure in coming years, as Philippine President Duterte approved a plan to deploy a national broadband network at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion to $4 billion (PHP 77 billion to 200 billion),” Akamai said in the report.
“The network will be used to host a national portal and other on-line government services, as well as to connect remote areas of the country that are underserved by existing broadband providers. Deployment could begin as early as June, with a three- to five-year timeline for completion,” it added.
The National Broadband Plan prioritizes unserved and underserved rural areas in seeking to increase the number of government sites and households with access to a 10 Mbps connection by 2020.
PLDT, the country’s dominant carrier, aims to make one gigabit-per-second connections available to 4.4 million homes by the end of this year. As of the first quarter, its multibillion-peso fiber infrastructure upgrade has passed three million homes, meaning ultrafast internet connectivity was available to about 200,000 more homes during the first quarter. The year-end 2016 level was at 2.8 million, according to data from PLDT’s first quarter financial results.
But with only about 20 percent of Filipino households owning a computer, the dramatic change can really be seen in mobile data usage. In its financial results, PLDT reported that its mobile internet revenues grew by 20 percent alongside a 28 percent decline in mobile broadband revenues during the first quarter. This reflects a shift from dongles or pocket Wi-Fi devices to smartphones in accessing the internet. The company said data usage during the first quarter increased by 56 percent from the comparative year-ago level and by 16 percent from the fourth quarter of 2016. About 50 percent of the PLDT Group’s mobile subscriber base or about 32 million subscribers are using smartphones. About 16 million of these subscribers pay for mobile data. In terms of home broadband and corporate fixed broadband, PLDT reported a subscriber base of 1.8 million as of March this year, increasing by 3 percent or about 50,000 from the yearend 2016 level.
Meanwhile, Globe Telecom also reported an 84 percent increase in mobile data traffic as smartphone penetration in its network reached 63 percent during the first quarter. The company said its mobile subscriber base reached 58.6 million as of March this year, while home broadband subscribers numbered 1.19 million as of March this year. About 81 percent of its capital expenditures were spent on improving data services. Out of its 35,325 cell sites, more than 22,000 support 4G services, it said in a press release announcing its first quarter results.
In its June 2017 The State of LTE Report, OpenSignal rated 4G availability in the Philippines at 52.77 percent with average download connection speed at 8.59 Mbps during the first quarter of the year. OpenSignal analyzes global LTE performance based on crowdsourced data.
In March, it described the Philippines’ 4G networks as “still behind much of the world in performance” with LTE speed tests rating Smart Communications’ average download connection at 9.9 Mbps and that of Globe at 7.4 Mbps based on data from November 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017. Globe surpassed its rival in terms of LTE availability, however, to even out the scale.
“We recorded draws between Globe and Smart in both our 3G speed and overall speed metrics. Both averaged 3G downloads just over 2 Mbps in our tests. While Smart won our LTE speed award, Globe’s better 4G availability score brought its average overall mobile data connection in line with Smart’s in our measurements,” OpenSignal said in its March 2017 State of Mobile Networks Report for the Philippines.