Philippines in wirelessland

Summary:There are things that are really terrible here in the Philippines, like traffic and the way politicos take credit for projects that are funded by public money. However, I'm still convinced that the country has a lot more positive traits over the not-so-good ones.

There are things that are really terrible here in the Philippines, like traffic and the way politicos take credit for projects that are funded by public money. However, I'm still convinced that the country has a lot more positive traits over the not-so-good ones.

One of those strengths is the way Filipinos has grown accustomed to the mobile way of life--or at least to the wireless technologies that have been introduced in the last few years.

This lifestyle and mindset, I believe, could be a result of an intense yearning for freedom after decades of being stuck in a telephone monopoly during the Marcos years. During that era, unless a household had the right "connections", it was not unusual to wait for years before a landline phone is installed in their home.

In a way, being trapped for so long in this rut only fueled the people's desire to jump to a next available technology. So when cellular phones made its way to the country, Filipinos embraced them like crazy. It was a classic case of leapfrogging.

Now, mobile phones in the Philippines outnumber landlines by a huge margin, perhaps as large as the revenues being racked up by mobile telephone operators. Leading carriers Smart Communications and Globe Telecom are, in fact, the country's most profitable companies.

As a way of trumpeting its newfound niche, the Philippines even proclaimed itself as the world's text messaging or SMS capital. I just don't know if that title still belongs to us since other countries have also discovered the joy of text messaging. But with a total subscriber base of 43 million--with each sending at least three text messages a day--I wouldn't be surprised if Filipinos are still the king of the hill.

You simply can't escape the ubiquity of the mobile phone in this country. TV contests, money remittance, auctions, customer feedback, or just about anything has an SMS component. Young kids can type and send a text message even without looking at a phone screen.

But phones aren't the only thing that is mobile here. Would you believe that the current rage right now is mobile landline phones? That's right. The very same thing that took an eternity to acquire in the past has gone mobile and is being sold like ice-cream in the streets.

Time was when having a landline was a status symbol. But look what is happening. Now, it's weird seeing the country's top landline providers--PLDT, Globe, and Bayantel--hawking their products in the villages.

Broadband connectivity is also something that is getting more movable. I'm not sure if it's due to the high mobile phone penetration, but there has been a big spike in mobile broadband offerings as of late.

These broadband services have become popular despite its still relatively high cost. PLDT's WeRoam and Globe's Visibility have completely changed the way Filipinos--well, at least, the affluent yuppie market--use the Internet.

My own broadband connection, to be technically correct, is a fixed one. However, it also has "mobile" characteristic in the sense that it gets its signal from a cell station near our area through an antenna atop our house.

This wireless capability has allowed Smart Communications, the provider of Smart Bro service, to deploy mobile Internet cafes in remote islands of the country such as Batanes in the north and Basilan in the south. Under this set-up, as long as there is a cell site, people have the capability to connect and surf the Web.

Last week, Smart decided to make its broadband offering truly mobile by launching a new service plan that allows subscribers to get to the Internet via a portable USB modem that can be attached to their laptops. I had the opportunity to test-run it and its speed was a bit impressive.

Still on the topic of mobility, nothing can be more mobile than the Mobile Internet Classrooms introduced five years ago by the Department of Science and Technology, and replicated recently by computer school STI Education Group.

These roving laboratories are housed in passenger buses retrofitted with Internet-capable laptop computers. These mobile classrooms are currently making the rounds in the provinces to teach students in those areas with basic IT literacy.

An IT-savvy Supreme Court, on the other hand, has employed a similar approach for an initiative with a different purpose--its mobile court project called "Justice-on-Wheels" also done through specially built buses.

Mobility? You bet that Filipinos know it well.

Topics: Mobility


Joel has been a media practitioner since 1996, starting off as a reporter and eventually becoming editor of a pioneering IT trade newspaper in Manila. He is currently one of the content producers of a Manila-based developmental website.


Melvin G. Calimag is currently the executive editor of an IT news website in the Philippines. Melvin has been covering the local IT beat for the last 13 years. He is currently a board member at the IT Journalists Association of the Philippines (CyberPress), and also serves as a charter member with the Philippine Science Journalists Associ... Full Bio

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