News Analysis Telecoms

Who’s on the phone … and why?

Despite the wretched state of mobile communications in the Philippines and the prohibitive costs of phone use there, the people of this tech-savvy nation have not been deterred from making cell phones a big part of their daily life – youth and initiative being the driving forces.

A 2015 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center which looked at 32 emerging and developing nations, showed that of the 42% of  Filipino adults who have access to the Internet or who own a smartphone, 64% of them are aged between 18 and 34. Once they turn 35, this figure is cut by nearly two thirds – just 23%.

That survey also shows how education levels greatly influence usage numbers: Filipinos with a secondary or higher education account for 67% of online traffic – just over twice as many as those with less than a secondary level of education. The Philippines’ Web-less masses

Other research which we have pulled together from a number of telecoms-industry and other sources shows that the Philippines’ 1.2 million people, between them, have 119 million mobile-phone subscriptions – a penetration rate of 117%. Of these, 95% are prepaid; 55% have a mobile broadband subscription; more than 10% have a broadband subscription, and 80% are subscribed to the lowest speed-tier plans of between 1 and 3 megabytes per second (Mbps).

So, how do mobile-owning Filipinos compare with their Southeast Asian peers?

Let’s start with cell-phone ownership. Smartphones: 20% of Filipinos have a smartphone (Malaysia 47%, Thailand 33%, Vietnam 24%, Indonesia 16%). Mobile phones (non-smartphone):  64% of the population has a mobile phone (Indonesia 63%, Thailand 59%, Vietnam 58%, Malaysia 45%). No phone at all: 26% of Filipinos do not have a cellphone (Malaysia 8%, Thailand 8%, Vietnam 18%, Indonesia 22%).

Now let’s see at how they use those phones. Texting. Overwhelmingly, in the case of the Philippines, cellphones are text machines and the country, in this respect, is the undisputed text capital of the world with a blistering 98% of mobile owners using their phones for regular text messaging. To give that some perspective, in the US, the figure is around 80%.

Of course, the main reason why Filipinos have opted in such numbers to communicate by text, is the astronomical cost of making phone calls within their country – as well as trying to stay in touch with friends and relatives overseas. In the texting stakes, Indonesia is not too far behind, with 96%, followed by Malaysia 89%, Vietnam 76% and Thailand 39%.

The next big use of cellphones is for taking photographs or videos. Camera use. Filipinos have taken to snapping shots on their mobiles with increasing enthusiasm. Some research suggests that enquiries about a phone’s camera capabilities is the first question which Filipino new-phone buyers ask retailers when they are looking to purchase a cellphone. In any event, our collated research shows that 67% of the Philippines’ mobile-phone owners take pictures or videos on their mobiles, (Malaysia 55%, Thailand 54%, Vietnam 45%, Indonesia 44%).

Text and camera, share a simple demographic – that the biggest use of these functions is made by 18 to 34 year olds who regard them as just part of everyday life. They will often text for no other reason than to say “Hi”, and take pictures of their food in a restaurant. Older age groups tend to use them for urgent messaging in the case of text and for special occasions, birthdays, baptisms and the like, for their cameras.

Now let’s take a brief look at how much time each day the Philippines spends on the phone and what it engages in while its there.

It’s been estimated that Filipinos are looking at their screens for 3.2 hours each day in the case of their cellphones, and 5.2 hours a day on their desktops and tablets. Around 22% of Filipino adults have a working computer in their home.

Here then is a breakdown of their main activities. These figures are shown as a percentage of the country’s total population (to save you looking back, that’s 1.2 million people).

Social media. With 2.3 billion active social-media users world wide, this is the big one. There are around 145.8 million active social-media users in Asia Pacific where the user count has jumped 14% since January. Supporting this is the 47% of Filipinos who use their electronic devices for social media purposes. There are, for example, 47 million Facebook (FB) accounts in the Philippines. Of users top 50 websites,,, and are ranked 32, 33 and 34 respectively.

Favourite sites. After FB, the next most popular site for Filipinos is YouTube, followed by,, and (see New/Research below). Twitter, Instagram and Reddit also rate highly.

Online shopping. 29% of Filipinos visit online-shopping sites. Of these, 50% have made purchases through their phones. The most popular site is Lazada, followed by oxl, alibaba, Amazon. Mutiply Marketplace which is run by US-owned, Jakarta-based Multiply, a media-share site with more than 11 million users is also gaining in popularity with mobile-device owners in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam

Watching video. 19%, with Youtube leading the pack. Putlocker is the top media-streaming site – Netflix and Sportify, among others, are fast gaining popularity. XVideos is the number one site for Filipinos searching for adult content, followed by Pornhub and Youjizz.

Online and mobile games. These account for 15% of all cellphone use. Online gaming portals X8 and Friv virtually own this segment.

News/Research. 13% across the board. and online Philippine daily newspaper,, top the list of news sites which Filipinos visit. These are followed by Gmanetworls, and Wikipedia. Also noteworthy is the growing interest among Filpinos with service providers such as Uber, Grab and AirBnB. is Filipinos’ search engine of choice.

Apps buyers. The Philippines is the fastest-growing apps market in Southeast Asia. Among the most useful mobile apps in the Philippines, according to Philippines Expat are, in order: Grab, an e-hailing smartphone-based booking and dispatch platform used by taxi services across Southeast Asia. As of March 2015 there were 75,000 taxi drivers registerd with this service and 3.8 million Grab users in the region. Food Panda, a Berlin-based food call-up delivery service, which recently entered the Philippine market. It also has a building regional presence. TripAdvisor’s app is used most for information, travel tips and reviews for locations, hotels and restaurants. Skype, followed by Viber, is the first choice for video calls.

As far as landline at home are concerned, these are becoming increasingly rare everywhere as cellphones take over – around 40% of American homes don’t have them any more. In the Philippines, meanwhile, 93% of homes are without a landline (Indonesia 95%, Vietnam 89%, Thailand 88%, Malaysia 85%).

But these figures don’t really explain the real story which is that home landlines in these countries was never high. And the reason for that – and it’s certainly the case in the Philippines – is that there is very little infrastructure for landlines; and again, the costs of landline subscription and calls, is astronomical. Even in commerce, landlines are seen as unnecessary overhead and small businesses in the Philippines operate mostly on mobile devices.

This is longer than our normal articles which we try to keep to around 500-words. It is, however, we believe, quite instructive and for that reason we have decided to break our own rule. The data in this article are compiled from a number of sources including:,;;;;;;;; GSM Associates Intelligence, and others.

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