There are so far only two network operators in the Philippines with a third one starting soon:
- Smart Communications (by PLDT, includes Smart, Sun Cellular and Talk'n Text)
- Globe Telecom (includes Tattoo, Touch Mobile/TM, ABS-CBN mobile and Cherry Prepaid)
- Mislatel (DITO) (to start in 2020)
Globe had been slowly gaining on the market leader Smart since 2012 when Globe had only a 32% market share. However, over the past years it has closed the gap. Globe finished 2016 with 66.6 million subscribers compared with Smart’s 62.1 million, giving Globe a 52% market share and Smart 48%. This is remarkable as Smart holds 290 MHz bandwidth and employs 12,000 BTS while Globe only 210 MHz and 7000 BTS in 2017.
Third provider: Mislatel (DITO)
In 2018 a third national provider was selected to fight the duopoly of Smart and Globe: Mislatel for Mindanao Islamic Telephone Company is a joint venture of Filipino businessman Dennis Uy and China Telecom which has been appointed the Philippines’ New Major Player (NMP) or third telco backed by the current president Duerte who promised to break the duopoly. Mislatel has committed to increase basic internet speed to 55 Mbps and cover 84% of the country’s population over an initial five-year period, through total investment of around US$ 5 billion.
Mislatel was formally issued with its certificate in July 2019 paving the way to challenge the might of de facto duopoly of Smart (PLDT) and Globe Telecom. Mislatel announced its intention to rename as DITO Telecommunity Corp. It will commence mobile network rollout from summer 2019. It's expected to get its first subscribers from populated areas like Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao in trials as early as November 2019 followed by a commercial launch probably in 2020.
2G-GSM/EDGE is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G UMTS up to HSPA+ on 850 MHz on Smart and 900 MHz on Globe and mainly on 2100 MHz on both networks. 4G/LTE started in the Metro Manila and has been extened to other cities so far. For 4G/LTE Smart uses 700 MHz (28), 850 MHz (5), 1800 MHz (3) and 2100 MHz (1); Globe uses 700 MHz (28), 1800 MHz (3), 2300 MHz (40 in TDD-LTE) and 2600 MHz (7).
Coverage and speed
The Philippines has long been notorious for having one of the slowest internet connections in the world and this is felt in mobile internet. Overall, a report suggests that download speeds are at average 7.0 Mbps download and 2.2 Mbps upload.
2G covers all inhabited islands but is practically useless for data transmission (even for WhatsApp) because of congestion. On 3G you only get data speeds comparably to other southeast Asian countries in Manila and a few provincial capitals. Generally the 3G coverage is somewhat patchy and speeds are often quite poor. 4G/LTE coverage isn't nationwide and mostly exists in greater urban areas so far. In fact, Open Signal writes that 4G is only available to 72.4% of the country. Both Globe and Smart have pledged to cover 95% of population with 4G/LTE by the end of 2018.
In the Philippines, there is a constant dispute, which network is better: Globe or Smart? By international or regional standards, both of them remain pretty bad. The problem is: you never can tell. On most places (outside of Metro Manila) only one network is useable for data and this changes regionally. For instance, on Boracay, Philippines' premier summer vacation spot, it's Smart. While on Baguio City, the country's summer capital, it's mostly dominated by Globe and Smart's signal is weaker.
If you need data at one particular spot, ask locally which one to choose. But don't ask anyone attached to a provider in a phone shop, they just want to sell their own product. It's better to count the numerous sales outlets instead: the provider with more outlets is likely the better at this location.
In 2016 the Philippines House of Representatives has requested Smart and Globe to explain, why the Filipino people 'are not receiving the quality of service that they deserve'. Smart and Globe will also have to 'show why they should have the privilege to keep their franchises despite the same'. The new controversial president Duterte has now threatened to break up the duopoly in the wake of persistent criticism of the Philippines’ slow and expensive internet services: 'If you do not do it right, you wait, I’m going to China. I’ll open up everything for competition. I’ll just open up everything,' the president warned. So we might soon see Chinese companies competing on the Philippino market.
In the meantime travelling through the Philippines you may think of getting two SIM cards like locals do. The start-up price is minimal and you can always try which operator works (better) at your place. This leaves you with the problem which SIM card to load up for data.
In 2017 the search for a third and possibly fourth operator is under way. The new entrant to be selected needs to invest PHP 30 billion (US$ 596 million) in the first two years to deploy a network, and would need to build at least 2,000 to 3,000 base transceiver stations (BTS) nationwide to break the duopoly of Smart and Globe.
In 2018 both operators launched massive 4G/LTE expansion programs to meet the target of the National Telecommunications Commission to provide 4G data services in 90-95% of the country’s cities and municipalities by the end of 2018.
According to OpenSignal report of March 2019 both operators are now head to head with a 4G/LTE availability of 71% but Smart has much higher speeds at 9 Mbit/s DL and 3.2 Mbit/s UL compared to Globe with 5.5 Mbit/s DL und 1.7 Mbit/s UL on average.
As it stands, there are still no formal requirements for anyone to provide confirmation of their identity when buying a prepaid SIM card, but be prepared that you will need to show a form of ID (or passport) and fill out some papers at the point of purchase from 2018.
In 2015 the House of Representatives approved a bill which calls for the systematic registration of all prepaid SIM cards in the country. The new rules require that anyone purchasing a SIM card fill in documentation and provide photographic proof of identity at the time of purchase. In 2016 the legislature has filed a bill in a bid to implement a mandatory SIM card registration scheme in the country so that anyone buying a SIM will be required to sign a control-numbered registration form used by the respective public telecommunications entity (PTE) of the card being purchased. The PTEs then have to collect registration forms from direct sellers and submit a copy to the National Telecommunications Commission. The Senate approved this bill in 2018 and SIM registration for new subscribers is now mandatory.
When searching for bigger reloads to your SIM, it's fairly difficult in some areas to find a shop that can offer that. Therefore you might want to use Lazada as at the point of writing, this was the only site found where you can reload your SIM without additional cost (and actually save 5% on your load value) via credit card.
Smart Communications by PLDT Inc, is one of the two leading providers in the Philippines with more than 70 million customers on its three brands Smart, Sun Cellular and Talk 'n Text. It was the first to start 4G/LTE in 2012 in Manila and expanded it now to some other cities. For 4G/LTE Smart uses 700 MHz (28), 850 MHz (5), 1800 MHz (3) and 2100 MHz (1).
Their usual prepaid SIM card is available practically at every street corner where you see their sign. Start-up price is around 40 Pesos with 300 MB and another 700 MB when you top-up at least P 30 within 3 days of activation. All new SIM cards include 4G/LTE now.
Recharges (loads) are available all over the Philippines on every street corner. They use an electronic reloading system in which the merchant uses a special SIM card (retailer's SIM card) or terminal to transfer/recharge credits (also known as e-load) into the subscriber's account. Minimum top-up value is P 15 plus a minimal fee of P 1-3 for the merchant.
In addition, SMART offers Pasaload whereby SMART subscribers with a sufficient balance and/or qualifying plan (if postpaid) can transfer some of their credits to a prepaid SMART subscriber. They can also send packages/bundles to another SMART subscriber. To use Pasaload, subscribers simply text <cellphone number><space><package keyword> and send it to 808.
Following Globe in 2018 Smart has announced that all prepaid loads will have a validity period of one year from now on. To check your balance text '?1515' to 214, enter 214# or *121#.
Data feature packages
These data packs called BigBytes and GigaSurf in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE sold in these sizes:
|BigBytes 5||15 MB||P 5||1 day||BIG5|
|BigBytes 10||40 MB||P 10||1 day||BIG10|
|BigBytes 15||40 MB||P 15||2 days||BIG15|
|BigBytes 30||100 MB||P 30||1 day||BIG30|
|GigaSurf 50||1 GB||P 50||3 days||GIGA50|
|GigaSurf 99||1.5 GB||P 99||7 days||GIGA99|
|GigaSurf 299||2 GB||P 299||30 days||GIGA299|
|GigaSurf 599||5 GB||P 599||30 days||GIGA599|
|GigaSurf 899||8 GB||P 899||30 days||GIGA899|
To activate, text keyword to 9999 (e.g. BIG30 then send it to 9999). Data usage beyond these packages is charged by the default data rate of P 5 per 15 minutes.
SMART also offers packages where access to selected apps/websites will be subject first to a separate allowance. For instance, as a bonus GigaSurf packages contain up to 1 GB per day for YouTube, iFlix, iWant TV, NBA League Pass, Cignal TV. Other packages are described and sold as follows:
|GIGA IG + FB 50||1 GB||+ 1 GB for
|P 50||3 days|
|GIGA IG + FB 99||2 GB||P 99||7 days|
|GIGA IG + FB 299||4 GB||P 299||30 days|
|GIGA IG + FB 399||6 GB||P 399||30 days|
|GIGA IG + FB 499||8 GB||P 399||30 days|
|GIGA GAMES 50||1 GB||+ 1 GB for
Clash of Clans
|P 50||3 days|
|GIGA GAMES 99||2 GB||P 99||7 days|
|GIGA GAMES 299||4 GG||P 299||30 days|
|GIGA GAMES 399||6 GB||P 399||30 days|
|GIGA GAMES 499||8 GB||P 499||30 days|
Mixed Call, Text, and Data packages
SMART also offers bundles that are inclusive of some free minutes and texts. However, these free minutes may only be used to make calls to SMART, SUN, or Talk 'N Text mobile phones. Calls to Globe and landlines will be charged to a user's main balance unless it says "to all networks". For activation press *121#.
|Package||Data||Apps with dedicated allowances||Voice||Texts||Price||Period|
|UCT 30||100 MB|| WhatsApp
|P 30||1 day|
|UCT 50||300 MB||P 50||3 days|
|UCT 100||500 MB||P 100||7 days|
|UCT 350||1 GB||P 50||30 days|
|All Out Surf 20||150 MB|| 100 MB
|20 mins on-net||P 20||1 day|
|All Out Surf 30||300 MB||30 mins on-net||P 30||2 days|
|All Out Surf 50||500 MB||50 mins on-net||P 50||3 days|
|All Out Surf 99||1 GB||100 mins on-net||P 99||7 days|
|Giga 499||8 GB||1 GB / day for
|-||-||P 499||30 days|
|Giga+ 75||1 GB|| Unlimited
|P 75||3 days|
|Giga+ 199||2 GB||P 199||7 days|
|Giga+ 449||4 GB||P 449||30 days|
|Giga+ 549||6 GB||P 549||30 days|
|Giga+ 649||8 GB||P 649||30 days|
|Giga All-IN 125||1 GB|| 1 GB / day for
+ FB and
|P 125||3 days|
|Giga All-IN 249||2 GB||P 249||7 days|
|Giga All-IN 649||4 GB||P 649||30 days|
|Giga All-IN 749||6 GB||P 749||30 days|
|Giga All-IN 849||8 GB||P 849||30 days|
SMART Bro and Data Card
SMART Bro is SMART's dedicated data-only service. Like a main SMART service, SMART Bro is available in a prepaid variant. The data-only packages outlined in the previous sections can also be availed on SMART Bro SIM cards.
In addition to the packages outlined in the previous subsections, SMART Bro also offers Surf Max packages where users get to enjoy up to 800 MB/day for the time they purchased it for. For example, if you purchase SurfMax 200, you get to enjoy 4GB for the entire time but for each day you are in that package, you will be limited to 800 MB of use. To activate and avail of the package, text the keyword corresponding to the package you wish to 2200.
|Package||Validity||Price||Keyword to be sent to 2200 for purchase|
|SurfMax 50||1 day||P 50||SURFMAX50|
|SurfMax 85||2 days||P 85||SURFMAX85|
|SurfMax 200||5 days||P 200||SURFMAX200|
|SurfMax 250||7 days||P 250||SURFMAX250|
|SurfMax 500||15 days||P 500||SURFMAX500|
|SurfMax 996||30 days||P 995||SURFMAX995|
For P1,295, you can purchase an LTE Pocket WiFi gadget which you can insert your SMART Bro SIM into. Managing the device and your SIM takes the form of connecting to that hotspot, opening a browser and typing the link stated in the manual. If you do not have credit, you will be automatically redirected to the SMART homepage and from there, you can top up your credit using a debit/credit card and purchase a suitable package. This LTE Pocket Wifi device is available at SMART Wireless Centres and leading electronic stores. You can also top up SMART Bro prepaid SIMs through other avenues where one can top-up the main SMART SIM cards; however, please specify that you wish to top up a SMART Bro.
The Smart Data Card comes with 2 GB data to any site + 1 GB iflix for P 100 valid for 7 days. It's available for Smart Prepaid nationwide in SM Malls, Robinson’s Malls, 7-Eleven and Ministop.
Tourist SIM cards
For tourists they give out a special free Tourist SIM at all international airports of the country. The same bonuses are included and same packages can be added. You only skip the start-up price.
The official-looking booths found at the airport may only appear to offer plans starting at P1000, but upon verbal request they should hand over an Open Load SIM, perhaps also requiring a minimum purchase of P300 credit. Failing that, try a convenience store.
Smart has partnered with Cebu Pacific Air to launch a free SIM card for tourists. Foreign tourists flying to the Philippines via Cebu Pacific from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan receive a complimentary Cebu Pacific-Smart LTE Tourist SIM, which they can activate upon arrival in the country.
You must have a minimum of P100 to use the Roaming service and must obviously have much more to purchase your preferred package. Text ROAM<space>ON to 333 to activate it before you leave the Philippines. Once you are in your destination, enable mobile data and log on to roam.smart.com.ph to choose the appropriate package.
The different TIERs refer to the countries that are subject to a certain price to avail of a certain package. For purposes of pricing, TIER 1 includes most Southeast Asian countries. All packs below are valid for 24 hours:
|Package||Included Apps||Data||TIER 1||TIER 2||TIER 3|
|Roam Chat||Viber, Line, WeChat,
WhatsApp and Telegram
|100 MB||P 150|
|Roam Chat Plus||200 MB||P 250|
|Roam Facebook 150||Facebook,
|100 MB||P 150|
|Roam Facebook 250||200 MB||P 250|
|Roam Social 150||Instagram, Twitter
|100 MB||P 150|
|Roam Social 250||200 MB||P 250|
|Roam Lite 150||All websites
|100 MB||P 150|
|Roam Lite 250||200 MB||P 250|
|Roam Surf||500 MB||P 550|
|Roam In-Flight||500 MB||P 550|
|GIGA Roam||1 GB||P 999||P 1499||P 1999|
- Download their "My Smart" app
- Tethering and VoIP are allowed
- Unlike Globe, they don't mangle your traffic, i.e. use no transparent proxies (report, which also shows excessive buffering).
- APN: LTE /or/ internet
- Website: http://smart.com.ph
Globe Telecom is the only rival of Smart in the Philippines. It is 1/2 owned by SingTel from Singapore and has more than 40 million customers. But most Filipinos hold SIM cards of both operators. Globe sometimes has better data rates, because its cells are less congested. 4G/LTE is available mostly in city areas so far: 4G/LTE coverage list on 700 MHz (28), 1800 MHz (3), 2500 MHz (41/TDD-LTE) and 2600 MHz (7).
Their prepaid SIM card is available practically at every street corner. It's sold for 40 Pesos. Now most SIM cards are 4G-enabled, but there might be some old ones still around without 4G. Check before buying. You can swap an old 3G SIM in a Globe store for free to a new one, depending on the branch's availability.
Prepaid SIM cards come with a free initial 70 MB data volume allocation valid for 1 week and initial activity period is 2 months. Once expired you have 45 days to recharge the SIM before it will expire for good.
You may adjust your APN configuration manually, if data doesn't work.
Reloads are available in every outlet of Globe all over the country from P 10. Most retailers sell it at an extra charge of P 1-3 because they use the share-a-load feature which is charged that amount. There are also reload vouchers available in malls in denominations of 100, 300 and 500 Peso.
To check balance text "BAL" to 222 or enter *143#.
Globe Telecom has announced in summer 2018 that it has fully complied with a Memorandum Circular extending the validity of all prepaid load to one year. Effective 5 July, all Globe prepaid load, including those with denominations below PHP 300, will carry a 1-year expiration period. Back in January, Globe and other carriers started implementing the 1-year expiration period for prepaid load worth PHP 300 and above.
Data feature packages
Data outside of packs costs P5 per 15 minutes. All packages are on 4G/LTE too where available. Their packages are called GoSURF:
|P 15||2 days||40 MB||GoSURF15|
|P 50||3 days||1 GB||300 MB for app||GoSURF50|
|P 299||30 days||1.5 GB||1 GB for app||GoSURF299|
|P 599||30 days||4 GB||1 GB for app||GoSURF599|
|P 999||30 days||8 GB||1 GB for app||GoSURF999|
All GoSurf packs come with bonus allowances and unlimited domestic SMS. To activate pack, text code to 8888- One app can be selected for bonus out of Snapchat, Instagram, Viber, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube or Twitter. To register your favourite app dial *143#.
Check your remaining data balance by texting "GOSURF STATUS" to 8888. To unsubscribe text "GoSURF STOP" to 8888. All data beyond packages will be charged by the default rate of P5 for a 15 mins or P2 per MB. To know your default rate dial *143#.
In 2016 Globe started a partnership with the National Tourism Promotion Board. To support the 'Visit the Philippines Again' campaign, it gives out the Globe Traveler SIM for free. It's available at the Globe booths at NAIA in Manila, Cebu, Davao, Kalibo, Iloilo and Clark International Airports can also be reserved via the Globe website. It's also given out on main incoming flights of Philippine Airlines for free as a promotion. You can add the same data packages from above.
- Tethering is allowed
- They use transparent proxies to "optimize" HTTP and other kinds of traffic, e.g. recompress images, scan .exe files for viruses, see what you have downloaded over BitTorrent.
- Some kinds of VoIP are allowed (Skype works, SIP is blocked)
- APN: lte.globe.com.ph, internet.globe.com.ph /or simply/ INTERNET /or/ LTE
- Website: http://www.globe.com.ph