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Mobile networks in the Philippines are more resilient in urban areas than in rural during the crisis

In the Philippines, video has been a big driver of data consumption, and with measures such as the General community quarantine (GCQ) and Enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed in response to Covid-19, Filipinos are consuming videos on Youtube, Netflix and other online streaming services more than ever, putting the mobile networks under pressure.

As operators in the Philippines reported a dramatic surge in data consumption, we found that the quality of the video streaming experience over 4G connections was resilient.  4G Video Experience in March declined by just 7.2% in urban areas when compared with the experience seen by users the previous month. The urban change was half the drop seen in the rural areas where the 4G Video Experience score fell by 14.7%. Despite these declines, the typical 4G Video Experience in the Philippines ranges from Fair to Good, which suggests that the mobile operators have been able to cope well during these extraordinary times.

In this analysis, Opensignal examined the mobile experience in urban and rural areas of five macro-regions — Mindanao, North and Central Luzon, South Luzon, Visayas and the NCR — for a period of seven months ending on March 31, using the urban/rural definitions from Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

In the first six months, between September 2019 and February 2020, we observed that the 4G Video Experience had improved in a majority of the regions. While rural users in the Mindanao region saw the biggest improvement of 23.3%, urban users saw the highest improvement of 9.1% in the NCR. In the remaining regions (urban and rural areas combined) the experience improved between 2.9% to 7.8%, with the exception of the  rural areas of the Visayas region.

Meanwhile, in the month of March, when the government had imposed restrictions as a result of COVID-19, we observed a decline in 4G Video Experience across all regions. However, urban areas saw much smaller changes than rural regions indicating greater resilience. In the urban areas, users in North and Central Luzon saw the lowest decrease of just 2.6%, while the decline in other regions ranged between 4.6% and 9.4%. South Luzon was the only region where we observed a decline beyond 10%. The Video Experience declined further as we moved away from the urban centers of the Philippines.

In the rural areas, users in the Visayas region experienced the smallest decline of 7.5%, while it declined further to 10.3% for users in North and Central Luzon region. The largest reductions were observed by users in the South Luzon and Mindanao region — 16.2% and 21.2%, respectively.

Despite the downturn described above, users in the Philippines continue to enjoy a Good 4G Video Experience (55-65 on a 100 point scale) in the NCR, and a Fair 4G Video Experience (40-55) in the remaining regions regardless of whether they are based in urban or rural areas.

In our recent State of Mobile Network Experience report, the Philippines upgraded its Video Experience rating from Poor (less than 40) to Fair (40-55), indicating that the mobile operators in the country have invested in their networks to improve the mobile experience. Because that occurred prior to the impact from Covid-19 it has put them in a better position to face the challenges arising due to the unexpected rise in demand.

But why is 4G Video Experience changing during the crisis? Although it is very evident that mobile data consumption is increasing, which is leading to greater demands on  networks, there are a number of other factors affecting the experience. One of these is the change in location of mobile usage — thousands of Filipinos working in cities moved out to their second residences or hometowns in the suburbs or rural areas to avoid being quarantined in the city. This means that users are spending more time in locations where the network infrastructure does not normally support such large numbers of users and this new traffic pattern.

Also, operators have relaxed the data limits on their mobile services, or cut the price of packages, to help customers stay connected during this crisis. Hence, consumers are now able to consume more data than usual without the usual restrictions. Additionally, with shifts in users' behavior during the quarantine, network experience generally starts falling during the non-peak hours, bringing down overall experience, as seen in our recent analysis in Italy.

With all these factors coming into play, the mobile networks experienced greater usage and increased mobile congestion. Despite these challenges, Filipino operators continue to provide resilient services to their mobile users in this unprecedented situation through persistent efforts to keep the users connected.

As we’ve already seen, mobile video consumption in the Philippines is growing exponentially, which means that a good Video Experience is becoming increasingly important to FIlipino consumers, hence any operator that provides greater Video Experience definitely has an edge, and at present Smart clearly holds that advantage. In our latest Mobile Network Experience report the operator won the Video Experience category nationally for the third report in a row and with a significant lead over its only competitor Globe.

Test how your video experience compares with the OpenSignal app’s video test feature, available for Android and iOS.