Manila, May 4, 2003 -- People using cellular phones in the country have reached 15.199 million in 2002, an increase of 25 percent in the number of mobile subscribers the previous year.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) said this figure is more than double than the 6.454 million number of users recorded in 2000.

As of end of 2002, the mobile penetration rate in the country has reached 18.8 percent, meaning million of potential users are still waiting to join the mobile phone craze.

In a recent study of the Philippine Survey and Research Center (PSRC) it stated that there is an estimated 6.7 million potential subscribers who have the intention to subscribe within the next 12 to 18 months.

In its Customer Satisfaction Study on Cellular Services in 2002, PSRC said the addressable market for cellular subscribers is within the age group of 13 to 60 years across all income classes.

As of last year, the subscriber base of Smart Communications, Inc. and Pilipino Telephone Corp. (Piltel), Talk N' Text reached 8.6 million, growing by 2.6 million subscribers over the combined based of 6.0 million GSM subscribers last year, representing a 57 percent share of the total wireless market in the Philippines.

On the other hand, Globe Telecom, ended last year with 6.6 million subscribers, up from 4.6 million in 2001.

Napoleon L. Nazareno, president and CEO of Smart, said that the company aims to reach at least 10 million subscribers as of end this year.

"There's a demand. We will have a rapid expansion of network. We will be setting up to 4,000 cell sites by the end of this year from the current 2,700 cell sites,'' Nazareno said.

Smart and Piltel, sister companies of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), as of February 24, 2003 have reached over nine million subscribers, making the two account for more than half of the total market share in the Philippines wireless market.

Manuel V. Pangilinan, president and CEO of PLDT, said: "The number is encouraging. We have just added about 400,000 subscribers in just two months. We expect Smart to contribute more than 40 percent of the total revenues of the PLDT Group.'' Last year, Smart made its first dividend payment of R1.5 billion to PLDT, its parent company.

"The year 2002 clearly showed that wireless business as the main driver of growth for the PLDT Group. The fixed line business remains a challenge, but we are confident that we can hurdle these challenges and emerge a stronger organization,'' said Pangilinan.

However, Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza noted that the growth of the fixed line has not been as phenomenal as with wireless connections.

He said the NTC reported that as of year 2001 there were 6.938 million fixed lines and 24,044 public payphones in the country.

Mendoza also noted that that growth of communications sector has been centered in the urban areas and cities in the country.

To address this, the DoTC and the NTC have embarked on projects to expand the services to rural areas.

"Our mandate is to promote universal access by the public to a minimum set of communication and information services through the establishment of operational telecenters in all municipalities and public payphones in clusters of barangays,'' he said.

Mendoza said the local exchange service has not reached 55 percent of cities and municipalities nationwide.

According to the NTC report last year, there were 74 local exchange carriers (LECs) in the country and about three LECs in one area.

The report also added that there are presently 11 international gateway facility (IGF) operators; seven cellular mobile telephone services, one of which has just launched its wireless business; 11 paging companies; 11 public trunk-line operators; 14 inter-exchange carrier licensees; and 291 value-added service providers. (By Lynda B. Valencia, pna)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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