The Philippines, a regional laggard in internet speeds, experienced a sharp increase in overall mobile download speeds in the year to end-April, data from OpenSignal showed.

During the period, overall mobile download speeds jumped 78 per cent to 7.4Mb/s at Smart and 45 per cent to 4.9Mb/s at rival Globe Telecom. The wireless data analytics company explained its measure of overall speed takes into account download speeds on 4G and 3G networks, along with the level of access consumers have to each type of network.

Both operators were nearly even in overall mobile speeds until August 2017, but after September, Smart’s speeds began to take off (see chart, left, click to enlarge).

“Our results show Smart’s 4G speeds began growing much faster and its 4G availability continued to tick upwards, while Globe’s [speed] remained relatively static,” OpenSignal lead analyst Kevin Fitchard wrote in a blog.

Fitchard did not provide details of typical 3G or 4G data rates at end-April, instead referencing previous OpenSignal data covering the three months to end-January.

Those figures showed Smart’s average 4G download speed stood at 12.5Mb/s, up from 9.9Mb/s in the period to end-January 2017. Globe Telecom’s typical speed of 7.7Mb/s at end-January 2018 was largely flat compared with end-January 2017 (7.4Mb/s).

The operator’s 4G availability at end-January stood at 67.5 per cent (55.3 per cent), while at Smart it was 59.9 per cent (40 per cent).

OpenSignal noted the availability measure is not a reflection of geographic coverage, instead indicating how often OpenSignal users can connect to LTE on each operator’s network.

Separate data from Ookla showed the country recorded even bigger gains in fixed broadband speeds, with a 403 per cent rise between April 2014 and 2018 making it the most improved country in Southeast Asia (see chart right, click to enlarge).

Speed challenge
The country’s slow internet speeds were a key reason President Rodrigo Duterte warned the county’s two dominant mobile operators in October 2016 he would open the market to Chinese competition if they failed to improve their poor service. The Philippines is in the process of selecting a third operator, although the date the licence is expected to be awarded has repeatedly been pushed back.

Mario Tamayo, Smart’s SVP for network planning and engineering said the OpenSignal results show its investments in upgrading its network are paying off, enabling it to deliver mobile data service to more customers in more areas.

Joel Agustin, Globe Telecom’s SVP for network technology, had a similar message: “we were able to improve our internet services by efficiently using our spectrum assets and improving our network continuously”.

Globe Telecom is investing between $850 million and $900 million in capex annually until 2020, deploying an additional 934 LTE sites in the opening quarter of 2018 in the 700MHz, 2.6GHz and 1.8GHz bands.

Smart’s parent PLDT allocated $1.1 billion for capex in 2018 as part of $3.5 billion it earmarked in February to expand and upgrade its mobile and fixed networks over the next three years. Smart installed more than 1,300 additional LTE base stations in Q1, raising its total count to about 10,000.