As most people were forced to stay at home since March to avoid catching the COVID-19 virus, they rely on mobile data to keep in touch with the outside world. Some were worried in the early weeks of the lockdown that the networks might not have enough capacity to provide their internet service as more and more people rely on it. SMART Communications, on the other hand, wasn’t worried at all.
In the first quarter of 2020, SMART LTE mobile data traffic grew to 636 petabytes (PB) — traffic doubled from the same period last year, and a 26-percent increase from end-2019. This pickup in data traffic was largely due to the sustained upswing of data usage since 2018 as SMART customers turned increasingly to using mobile video and social media apps.
SMART LTE was able to prove that they can provide fast and reliable mobile data to everyone during the unexpected lockdown, and these efforts has its rewards. SMART’s service revenues grew 20 percent to P20.2 billion, staying firmly on the growth track from the previous year. The share of data revenues to total wireless consumer revenues rose to 72%, from 65% in the same period last year, and 44% in 2018.
Alfred S. Panlilio, SMART President and CEO and concurrent PLDT Chief Revenue Officer, credits their investments on their networks. “Our LTE-powered mobile data network has passed the initial COVID stress test. The money and effort we’ve invested in our network have enabled us to provide quality service to our mobile phone customers even as data usage continued to rise, particularly since people have been forced to stay at home by the pandemic.”
The data usage and revenue numbers of Q1 2020 do not yet fully capture the “COVID effect” since the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was imposed on Luzon only in the second-half of March 2020. Initially, the ECQ had a dampening impact on SMART’s revenues because restrictions on people’s movements made it difficult for SMART sales personnel to support its network of retailers. But, quick adjustments – including the increased use of the SMART Ka-Partner mobile app to distribute prepaid load to retailers – enabled sales to regain momentum.
Meantime, SMART leveled up its data offers by doubling the data allocation for its postpaid subscribers and beefing up the data packages of its prepaid customers. This move met head-on the surge in demand for data connectivity and digital services. Forced to work or study from home, mobile phone users stepped up their usage not only of video and social media, but also of a broad range of other digital services such as video conferencing, online shopping, digital payments and, lately, online medical consultations.
SMART responded to the new needs of its customers like its GIGA Work bundle, which features work collaboration apps and productivity tools such as MS Teams, Google Meet and CISCO WebEx for videoconferencing, MS Office 365 and GSuite for work collaboration, and PayMaya, Lazada, Shopee, and Grab for delivery and payments.
“Our goal is to provide solutions that will enable them to pursue their daily lives productively and safely during and after this time of COVID and as everyone adopts to the emerging New Normal,” said Jane J. Basas, Senior Vice President and Head of the Wireless Consumer Business.