Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT), the country’s dominant fixed line and cellular services provider, said its net income for the first quarter of 2004 more than doubled to PHP5.24 billion (USD94 million), from PHP2.5 billion twelve months earlier, thanks to a strong performance from its mobile units Smart Communications and Pilipino Telephone Co (Piltel). The two cellcos signed up a record 1.41 million new wireless subscribers in the first three months of the year to take their combined subscriber base to more than 14.4 million, an estimated 58%-60% market share. It was the first time that PLDT has signed up more wireless customers in the first three months of a year than in the previous fourth quarter, and the group is now expecting the trend to continue throughout 2004. The unparalleled growth has been, in part, attributed to Smart’s introduction last year of a pre-paid product that allows its customers to sell on blocks of pre-paid airtime to other users.
PLDT’s closest rival, Globe Telecom, also reported impressive growth for the first quarter, with net profit up PHP1.1 billion to PHP3.1 billion on the back of strong growth in its cellular operations and increased operating efficiency. Globe reported record growth of 2.2 million subscribers during the period, though it was at pains to point out that net additions totalled just 277,197, with the bulk of those signing up returning to the cellco following the launch of its own ‘Share-a-load’ service in January to rival Smart’s sell-on airtime facility. Globe’s mobile customer base totalled 9.1 million at the end of March.
Analysts predict that the strong growth will continue in the second quarter, with both of the leading mobile groups likely to benefit from increased usage around the country’s national elections on 10 May. With mobile penetration of around 28% in a country of 80 million at the end of 2003, there is still plenty of scope for growth and median estimates put that figure at nearer 35% by the end of this year, rising to 45% in 2006.