State of Wireless Technologies in the Philippines v2Janette Toral
(This paper is regularly presented by Janette Toral in her speaking engagements giving details on why the Philippines is the text messaging capital of the world.)
[February 2, 2003] In the year 2000, I began recognizing the power that wireless technologies has to offer to people all over the world in making things better and improve the way we do things. It is like the 3rd wave of the Internet but much more.
I’m here to present to you the Philippines. Not as a call center, medical transcription, animation and back-office location of choice but as a software and business development partner in the area of wireless technologies. I believe that our hard-earned experience in this arena is our competitive advantage globally.
My paper will discuss wireless applications developed for cellular phones, personal digital assistants, and other forms of devices.
There are 70 local fixed line local operators and 5 cellular service providers in the Philippines: Extelcom, Piltel, Globe, Smart, and Nextel. Analog, CDMA, iDen, GSM phone services are available throughout the country. At present, Globe and Smart dominates the subscriber base with its GSM-based service. The country has around 15 million mobile phone subscribers and 4 million fixed line subscribers. Digitel is expected to launch its GSM based service soon.
In the year 2002, Smart and Talk `N Text had an aggregated total subscriber base of 8,000,000 (6,369,000 in the year 2001).
Globe, on the other hand registered nearly 7 million subscribers in 2002. (4.6 million 2001)
Out of the 14.6 million mobile phone subscribers as of end 2002, we estimate that 90% are in prepaid plan.
The Philippine wireless application developer community skills cover short messaging service (SMS or text messaging) to Web, Unix and Microsoft-based for the wireless and fixed line, WAP, GPRS, Palm, IPAQ. Languages used are C++, Java, Visual Basic, J2ME, Brew, Symbian, among others.
WAP does not do it
Prior to the SMS explosion, first attempt to implement wireless applications were made through the use of Wireless Access Protocol (WAP). Despite major advertising and campaign efforts, results have been very disappointing. Speed, affordability of WAP-enabled handset, and cost per minute access hindered the success of WAP in the Philippines. (For more info: Smart WAP)
However, with the entry of affordable GPRS handsets and services, we hope that this will encourage the growth of WAP. (Find out more: Smart GPRS)
Text messaging capital of the world
In the year 2000, the country was referred as the text messaging capital of the world. Close to 300 million text messages are sent through the country’s mobile networks everyday.
SMS growth in the Philippines is driven by content provider applications. It is all about bringing the content within the reach of the mobile phone user anytime, anywhere.
As majority of the subscribers are using prepaid cards, carriers are finding ways to make it easier for subscribers to refill their phone cards. Globe allows its subscribers to reload their prepaid phones through BPI Express Online. Smart does it as well with its SmartMoney card. Reloading online is also becoming a popular option. Yehey.com and Estore-Exchange are just some who are offering this option.
The number of mobile phone subscribers is expected to reach 18 million in 2003. This continuous growth trend makes carriers and application service providers creative in its services offering and have it accessible to the simplest phone.
There are a lot of talks about the mobile phone replacing the PC. I believe this is not so. The Internet and the personal computer will still remain as the medium of choice for sit-down and complex operations. Although I must agree that the mobile phone will be perfect for personalized on-the-go services and applications. Instead of bringing the Internet to the mobile phone, the strategy should be on how it can compliment each other.
The Filipino Mobile Phone User
In The Filipino Mobile Phone User Report, 2nd issue of the DigitalFilipino.com StatsReport, 71% of our respondents have used value-added services (VAS). Although logos and icons top the list, news emerged as the most frequently accessed VAS.
Close to 500 mobile phone users from 9 regions including Cebu, Davao, Manila, Luzon and other parts of the country were interviewed from February to July 2002 to come up with this report.
Highlights of the report are:
- 57% of our respondents are subscribed to Globe while 47% with Smart. 70% are prepaid subscribers. Smart is most popular to ages 24 and below.
- 82% of our respondents own a Nokia mobile phone with the 3310 model leading followed by the 3210.
- On the average, 20 text message are sent daily by our respondents with the 33 to 36 age group being most active.
There’s a lot of wireless applications being offered and developed in the Philippines. Globe offers a suite of services and so does Smart and Talk N” Text doing it jointly. The applications can be categorized as:
- Picture messages and ringtones
It is the most popular value-added service offering in the Philippines where the latest ringtones and logos are available for download.
New ways of texting were offered too. Smart and Globe offered flash text which became popular last year where messages are instantly flashed on the phone screen. No need to check the phone’s inbox for unread messages. Message icons are available as well where one can send personalized operator logos with own messages. (Find out more: Personalized Greetings; SMART e-Cards; Globe Text Cards; Globe Greeting Cards)
- Information on demand
Various information are now available through the phone that can be accessed anytime, anywhere such as the latest news (local, global, business, sports, weather traffic), job openings, lotto results, health, life guides (horoscope, biorythm), travel news, and flight information. (Get more info: Smart Info-on-Demand; Globe News and Information, DoctorGeorge)
Games for fun and profit including TV and radio game shows are popular in all sectors of society especially if it is affordable and the stakes are high at the same time.
Popular games like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Game Ka Na Ba, among others, get its contestant through the use of the sponsor carriers network of subscribers.
Here are some examples of games:
- Smart txtgames – Allows subscribers to play with fun games like Battle Ship, BingoTxt, Gothello, Tic-tac-toe, Decode, Hangman, Wordseek, BingoTxt. A player can also invite a fellow subscriber for a 2 player game.
- Text to Millions – Through Smart ZED, this is dubbed as the biggest text-based quiz game.
- Smart Adventure Game – Subscribers can create their own adventure by choosing the character moves from start to finish. Tunes and graphics can be downloaded as well. Adventure stories include Caspere, Night Creature, Pandora’s Inn. Globe has its own Adventure game too that is being offered via SMS or WAP.
- Handy Pet and Virtual Friends – Offered through Globe, this application allows you to have a regular companion that you can communicate with through your mobile phone. Friends can be from other countries too.
Various game shows on TV began using SMS as a medium in encouraging audience participation. Talk shows also use SMS in getting audience opinion on various issues. It is seen as an effective medium than phone calls and email. As Filipinos love watching television, movies, and the like, carriers and wireless application developers are now capitalizing on this medium to generate revenue. (For more info: ABS-CBN; GMA)
Smart offers Celebrity Pals where subscribers can get to choose. One good example is Virtual Joyce. It is a question and answer service where subscribers can ask Joyce about her views, tips, advice on subjects like love, dating, and relationships. There’s also a lover personality test.
Smart Anime Mania is catered for the anime enthusiast. Cartoon programs like Flame of Recca, Knight Sabers, Lupin the 3rd, Voltes V has its own line of anime logos, picture messages, screen savers, and ringtones. A text-based game is also available such as trivia, among others.
- Media and community applications
Various community building applications are now available through cellular.
- Globe Campus Bulletin – Find out the latest event happenings, alumni news, sports, directory in schools such as De La Salle, UP Diliman, UAP, CEU, Arellano Law, UP Manila, Adamson, PCU, UE, St. Scholastica”s College, Letran, San Sebastian, College of St. Benilde.
- Smart ICQ – Allows existing ICQ users to communicate with their friends connected through the Internet or mobile phone
- Smart B-My-Buddy Chat – Search people by age, sex, and location. The chat anonymously through the cellular phone. With Find-a-match, subscribers can search for their ideal chatmate by answering a set of profile questions. Then a list of names of people that click with one’s personality will be sent. Once a match is given, one will be able to exchange message.
- Smart I-chat – Send instant messages from the cellphone to any Internet connected PC in the world. Tied up with Chikka.com.
- My Crush – A way for people to text that they have a crush on someone without giving their cellphone number. The recipient can guess who sent by keying in the cellphone of the person whom one thinks has a crush on his/her. If correct, both sender and recipient will get a new text message with each other’s number. If incorrect, the person who owned the cellphone number the sender keyed in will get a new “crush” message.
- Smart Chat Lounge – this allows a Smart subscriber to chat with a group of people at a time.
- Instant Messenger – This Globe service allows users to send text messages to any Internet connected computer from one’s cellular phone. Chikka.com service counterpart to Smart I-chat.
- Mobile Chat – pick a chat room and meet new friends.
- PinoyMail WebTxt – This service allows Filipinos relatives and friends based overseas to send and receive text messages from their Pinoymail.com web-based mailbox.
- Inq7.net’s YOU! – This youth site has a You Txt section where readers can post a feedback via SMS and it will appear on the web.
- Jobs Online – this site allows you to get job opening details and apply from your mobile phone. (Similar: Smart Job Finder)
- Mobile advertising and promotions
Smart has its own Cinema Club where movies are being promoted through SMS. Subscribers can download logos, group graphics, picture messages, screen savers, calendar logos, join promos, raffle, and play games. Some of the movies promoted through text were (with their customized applications):
Smart also allow its subscribers to order and pay for movie tickets in advance with SmartMoney.
Globe, on the other hand, takes the service to a higher level by allowing subscribers to reserve a movie ticket thru the phone.
- Mobile Commerce
This is gradually becoming a reality in this space as well as a lot of applications right now are being built to supplement an existing e-commerce site. Such as:
- Location Based Services (LBS)
This service is one, if not the most, significant service that can be utilized through the mobile phone. LBS extends the mobile phone from a communication to tracking device. There are a lot of services that Filipinos can use with it today. Such as:
- Secure Me – this is integrated in an existing alarm system. As soon as an alarm is triggered, SecureMe sends a SMS to your cell phone informing you of a possible break-in.
- Track Me – a service that allows one to monitor the location of a vehicle via SMS. When the vehicle is stolen, the owner actually waits for the car to move away, for the owner”s personal safety, and then sends a text message that, in turn, does the following; automatically turns off the engine, locks all passengers inside and sends the exact location of the vehicle to the owner. This gives car owners enough time to contact the proper authorities for safe recovery of the vehicle.
- Smart Automatic Vehicle Location System – a vehicle tracking service that makes use of combined Global Positioning System (GPS) and GSM technologies where one can track the location of multiple vehicles.
- Corporate solutions and personal information manager
Various productivity applications are now being offered through the cellular phone as well. Some of them are:
- Smart Yahoo Mail – this service allows you to send and receive Yahoo Mail via text. Other forms of email service via text are being offered such as: SMART TextMail and Globe XTM
- StorIT – Offered through Globe, this application allows a subscriber to store, forward, upload 50 operator logos, 50 ringtones, 50 picture messages, 300 business cards, 500 text messages, 3mb digital files from the phone to the MyGlobe StorIT web service. On the web, one can upload digital files, view text files, view picture messages and logos as they would appear on the phone, listen to ringtones, delete and rename stored files. It’s like having a back-up storage facility for your phone. Advanced features are now available as well such as group mail where one can send to many simultaneously. StorIT users can now exchange files that functions like an e-mail service. This service also has its WAP counterpart.
- Globe Photo Album – This application works on MMS capable phones. Subscribers can view and share to email photos, privately or publicly. Currently works with Ericsson phones and WAP over GPRS.
- Mobile Opinion – This service is given free to companies who would like to receive opinion from customers through the mobile phone.
- B2BPriceNow.com – empowers farmers by allowing them to update their catalog through the mobile phone. Farmers and cooperatives can also find out the latest prices of products and commodities per region via SMS. This is to effectively assist them in negotiating their price to any middleman.
- SMART myTXT Site – lets you create your own keyword and create an information page accessible by network subscribers.
- Mobile banking – you can now do basic banking transactions through your mobile phone with Globe and Smart.
- Group Text – intead of sending individual text messages, Smart offers subscribers the ability of sending one text message to several users all at the same time.
- Package Tracker – Globe subscribers can now easily track their FedEx and Aboitiz packages via text.
Please note that all of the applications mentioned herein are just some examples of what is currently available. There’s so much more.
The current demand for wireless applications spurred a new area of focus for the software development sector. Some of the players in this area are:
- GiveMe Unlimited
- Webcast Technologies
- Wireless Works
- Sequel Solutions
- Personalized Greetings
- Asian Navigation Tracking Service
- Softrigger Interactive
- SpinWeb Inc.
- stag Philippines
- Icon Interactive
What made it click?
The growth of wireless applications can be attributed to several factors. Filipinos are known to be very social and friendly therefore making communication offerings an immediate click. A lot of idle time is wasted as well in traffic. During these waiting hours, the mobile phone is used extensively to keep one occupied and in touch.
Cellular operators aggressiveness in increasing its revenues in wireless data services is driving its strategy to continuously seek for killer applications.
As wireless applications are considered to be unique and new, application developers specializing in this field can avail as well of government incentives in pioneering projects.
SMS applications are very promising as it is popular in all ages because of its simplicity and accessibility. As applications become more useful, fun, and productive, achieving market share domination will be competitive.
However, with several applications being introduced every week, the lifecycle of a wireless application becomes shorter and requires consistent promotion on the part of the carrier and application developer to extend its viability and longevity.
Advancement in technologies will always present a challenge to the wireless application developer community. However, practicality will always prevail. What’s the use of developing applications using the latest tool if the handsets required to access with it is limited due to availability and affordability.
Cellular operators are very strict as to what content and value-added services are being introduced to their subscribers. Unlike on the Internet, anyone can develop and deploy websites. This can be looked into on both positive and negative perspective. There are moves right now by various international groups wanting to create common application development standards to make applications available and deployable to almost any carrier. Although such initiative is inspiring, it is perceive to be lacking in business sense as well by some developers.
Carriers’ walled garden approach
In the Philippines, carriers require a lockout for a specific period of time as the competition among its peers is about the uniqueness and value of their offerings. If an application is available to almost any carrier, its value may be high for the developers but low on the part of the carriers. The competitive advantage diminishes.
At the start of this year, we began seeing applications offered through several wireless and fixed line carriers. This arrangement gradually becomes acceptable. However, the incentive of being promoted by the carrier is hardly existent and the task needs to be taken by the developer.
Regardless, the risk of developers is fairly high, for an application developed may not come out of the market if the carrier doesn’t like it. Carriers need to have flexibility of acting as pipes as well for independent applications that they may not necessarily endorse. Provide equal opportunity and chances to all wireless application developers.
In the interest of industry growth, carriers needs to be flexible in order for the Philippines to retain its present competitive advantage globally.
Expansion outside the Philippines is an important move that the wireless application developers must take. There is so much opportunity out there and their experience in building applications designed to attract all classes of people is vital.
Similar to the dotcom sector, the protection of ideas is an important concern. Unlike in the dotcom, ideas are presented to attract venture capital and strategic partners. In the wireless sector, it is presented to the carrier for potential partnership and roll-out on the carriers’ network. However, there are a lot of sad stories where applications don’t get approved but offered by another group to the same carrier in a few months. Although accusation of piracy is not proven, this creates a lot of uncertainty.
Carriers must ensure that its employees tackle its dealings with the wireless application developer community in utmost professionalism and ensure that conflict of interest doesn’t exist. Anything less than that will cause damage to the carrier and application developer and will hurt the industry in the long run.
Negotiation for a much more reasonable revenue share with the carriers is an issue facing developers right now. As carriers charge P2.50 for every value-added SMS, 20% or 50 centavos goes to the developer. It means that almost 30,000 SMS is needed to at least have a gross revenue of P15,000 for the part of the developer. The only way for developers to survive is to ensure that they have multiple applications rolled out and have it promoted extensively.
The relationship between the developers and carriers are based on trust. Developers will have to trust the carrier reports on the volume of messages passing through its system that is attributed to the application rolled out by the developer.
The power of wireless
Wireless technologies has helped bridge the digital divide in the Philippines as various Internet applications were made accessible to the cellular phone despite its limitations.
Filipinos, young and old, became more appreciative of information technology and has offered earning opportunities for micro and small application developers.
If the Internet is all about user empowerment, mobile technologies such as cellular is all about operator driven empowerment. It is that way for the user is limited to what her service provider has to offer. However, as technologies move forward in lightning speed, it will be all about user empowerment once the wireless Internet fully takes off.
There’s so much opportunity in the wireless arena. Foreign players are beginning to see this and we see more and more applications being brought here such as those created by RiotE. However, our homegrown applications can be marketed outside as well.
The Philippines is an ideal partner for wireless application development and testing. Its applications are rigorously tested to the world’s most demanding wireless user, the Filipino. I hope that the time and day will come we”ll be recognize for it by seeing our homegrown wireless applications exported worldwide.