Cell Phones and Smartphones in the Philippines

Just like anywhere else in the world, you can see all kinds of mobile phones being used in the Philippines. The mobile phones include everything from the really old-style cell phones (without the colorful screens) to the latest smartphones and everything in between. The thing that makes me laugh is that most smartphone options are only usable in and around the “downtown” areas of the cities and yet, there are people who will brag about those features in the rural areas.

Cell Phones and Smartphones

iphone - cell phones and smartphones As I mentioned before, I won’t buy a smartphone if I can help it. Before I left the Philippines the last time, I bought four cheap cell phones (not smartphones). Three are sitting in a closet until both I and my wife return to the Philippines (she’ll probably give away one of the cell phones). I gave one to a brother-in-law because he needed a mobile phone to stay in contact with the mayor’s office since he now has a municipal job. My wife will probably use one regularly while I may use one for just for receiving messages (like mobile phone authentication services).

The first time I wrote about cell phones in the Philippines elsewhere (in August of 2008), the cell phones I saw the most of in Olongapo City were Nokia cell phones. I saw a few other brands, but none were as widely used as the Nokia cell phones. Outside of Olongapo City, mostly in areas of metro Manila, the choices appeared to be more diverse and included the latest smartphones. Since then, smartphones have shown up in all areas of the country, even in places where only voice calls and text messaging will work. I’m sure it’s difficult to find anything other than smartphones these days.

Not all mobile phones will work in the Philippines. My wife left me a Samsung cell phone a few years ago that just sat in a drawer until she returned and took it back a year later because I couldn’t get a compatible SIM for it. I found out later it was just that particular model that was unsupported. Perhaps it was a locked cell phone, but I really don’t know.

I can’t even recognize some of the smartphones in the Philippines because they aren’t brands used in the United States and I think some of the brand name smartphones are actually counterfeit smartphones, made in China or elsewhere. This is what I gather as I see people at SM City Olongapo mall and the Harbor Point mall at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. I guess it doesn’t matter as long as they work as intended.

Prepaid and Postpaid Plans

Most Filipinos buy “loads” for prepaid calls and it’s like a pay-as-you-go plan, but without any contract. Without loads, they can receive but they can’t send. Others, those with full-time jobs and other people who can afford it, opt for the postpaid plans. One husband of a sister-in-law has a plan from Smart Communications that depends on usage with a variable cost up to 999 pesos per month (or so he told me). From what I’ve seen on their website, it’s more likely to be the SIM-only plan at 999 pesos per month, with a 6-month lock-in period. Regardless, it’s still less than $25.00 USD per month. This is the kind of plan my wife wants to have when she returns because she absolutely hates using loads.

Manila isn’t the Philippines

I want to point out a few things. Many people, non-Filipinos of course and only outside of the Philippines, seem to subconsciously think that Manila is the Philippines. Nothing could be further from the truth, but the majority of areas outside of Manila don’t get much attention in the media unless something devastating happens.

While it’s true that most of the population is concentrated in the Manila area (like concentrations in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc.) and that Manila is technologically up-to-date, the technology issue isn’t true for many of the areas outside of Manila. Even in areas where it seems to be the case, the services are oversubscribed and the people affected are paying for poor quality service. Since I’ve seen firsthand what happens to Globe and Smart subscribers, I know this to be the case in Olongapo City (not the Subic Bay Freeport Zone). In fact, the only people outside of the freeport zone that seem to get decent service are those that live in the “downtown” area and that’s simply due to the proximity to the former naval base and how long it’s been there.

I think what’s really going on is that many people believe they’re getting something they’re not and then they get offended when I tell them they’re not getting what they think they’re getting. In other words… just because you’re being told you’re getting a particular service doesn’t mean you’re getting the best of that service (it usually means the opposite). This doesn’t apply only to mobile phone services in the Philippines, by the way, because I have relatives in suburban areas of the United States getting screwed in pretty much the same way.