With COVID-19 bringing extraordinary challenges this year, connectivity and digital solutions have been crucial to rebooting lives and livelihoods, and reviving jobs lost during this pandemic.
As internet connectivity becomes the foundation of the digital economy, this has made services from the country’s leading integrated telco PLDT and its wireless arm Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) key to empowering small and medium businesses as well as large-scale enterprises in weathering the impact of COVID-19.
“To say that 2020 has been a year of extraordinary challenges is an understatement. In a matter of weeks, even days, we were compelled to modify business models, strategies, restructure organizational priorities, and we did these in record-breaking levels of agility,” said Alfredo S. Panlilio, Smart Communications president and CEO and PLDT chief revenue officer speaking at a recent BusinessWorld Economic Forum about the impact of COVID-19 on transportation and connectivity.
Panlilio highlighted how PLDT and Smart’s ramped-up network expansion and rollout of relevant services have enabled the companies to be a stronger source of connectivity and an even more dependable partner to their customers.
“We continuously developed multiple products that enabled students to learn and professionals to work in the safety of their homes. We also empowered the small and medium businesses to be in top shape, while allowing large-scale enterprises to thrive, throughout the pandemic,” he added.
Citing the boom of online businesses amid COVID, Panlilio said that technology has likewise helped the recovery of those who lost their jobs during the pandemic. “During COVID, a lot of ordinary Filipinos started their own businesses online. A lot of people lost their jobs, but access to technology has helped them create their own livelihoods,” he said.
With more businesses adopting work-from-home strategies, Panlilio said that the new normal has also forced companies like PLDT-Smart to rethink their office setup.
“We must rethink our office spaces and consider social distancing. Work from Home will be part of the new normal working scenario, and connectivity will not just be important in our corporate offices, but also in the home,” he said, adding that the new normal working scenario will involve both working from home and reporting to the office. “This is now our norm, and will continue to be. We still don’t have a vaccine for COVID. I assume this will continue for one, if not two years,” he said.
Despite the challenges, opportunities still abound in the new normal, as industries like health and education pivot further into digital. “There is a lot of opportunity in building digital ecosystems for health and education. In education, as studying online becomes more popular, we don’t just have to equip our teachers and students with connectivity, we also have to give them the right tools such as access to learning management systems,” Panlilio said.
In health, technology has likewise allowed doctors to still serve patients without exposing them to COVID risk in hospitals by offering e-consults. “Payments have also largely shifted to online, and we need to develop digital ecosystems and connectivity to support these activities,” he said.
These services have been made possible by PLDT and Smart’s integrated fixed and wireless networks. To date, PLDT’s fiber infrastructure now spans 395,000 kilometers nationwide. This also supports Smart’s mobile networks, which covers 96% of the Philippine population.
As of end-September 2020, 46% of cities/municipalities have PLDT Home broadband presence, in both fiber and copper. Total homes passed increased by 14% to 8.3 million, while total capacity also increased by 9% to 3.8 million ports.
These continuing network expansion initiatives form a large part of the PLDT Group’s sustained investments in capital expenditures, which have totaled some PHP432 billion from 2011 to September 2020. PLDT’s expansion efforts and investments helped the Group cope with sustained growth in data traffic when COVID-19 community quarantines commenced in March. PLDT is anticipating capex of at least P70 billion for 2020.