Before proceeding to discuss my chosen topic for this week, here's an update of the long-running National Broadband Network (NBN) deal: A new witness surfaced last week during the Senate hearings to corroborate what whistleblower Rodolfo Noel "Jun" Lozada Jr. has disclosed so far concerning alleged anomalies. Then came a massive rally aimed at forcing President Gloria Arroyo to step down from her post. But these developments seemed not to have rattled the president at all, who now appears to have surpassed the latest threat to her presidency.
With that out of the way, let me go to the order of the day: the lackluster use of data among mobile users in the Philippines. While the country sends the highest number of text messages in the world per capita, it hasn't quite lived up to its reputation in the area of data use, which basically refers to surfing or downloading of Internet information on cellular phones.
The country's top mobile operators--Smart Communications and Globe Telecom--have long ago rolled out their respective 3G services but not many people are using them. Both have touted the video-calling feature of the technology, but I have yet to see someone actually use it. Really.
The carriers currently have two sets of revenue models--Smart charges 10 pesos (US$0.20) per hour, while Globe subscribers pay by the amount of kilobytes they download. However, it's safe to say both are miserable failures.
I'm not counting on either Smart or Globe to open the floodgates for data usage. I'm reserving that for Sun Cellular, the low-cost operator which hasn't gone 3G yet but is sure to disturb the balance of power in the telecom space once it decides to offer the service. Why do I say this? It's because Sun has done it before when it introduced in the local market "unlimited" call and text messaging packages that have been adopted by its bigger rivals.
My hunch is that Smart and Globe are restraining themselves in offering 3G under the "unlimited" banner perhaps because it wants to recoup the outrageous investment they poured in their 3G infrastructure. But that's exactly what telecom carriers in other countries have done, particularly Singapore.
A Motorola executive, Alvin Soh, told me a few weeks back that it took only one player, StarHub in this case, to introduce a flat-rate data package to its subscribers for other Singapore operators to follow suit. Now, all mobile users in the city-state are enjoying unbridled data access. If I remember it right, it was also StarHub which initiated the "caller-pays" pricing scheme in Singapore. Not long after, other operators adopted the same model.
I notice a bit of parallelism between StarHub and Sun Cellular as being maverick players of the industry, so to speak. Now, if only Sun has 3G, perhaps it can continue its nonconformist style and start a new trend all over again.