Text messaging, or simply known as “texting” here in the Philippines, has become one of the most popular contemporary cultures not only among the youth but among almost all Filipinos of any generation. Today, the mobile phone has been serving not just as a simple communication tool, but also now as an instrument in availing services of certain institutions such as the government, and of certain websites on the Internet such as Plurk and Friendster.
The Short Message Service (SMS) phenomenon has reached the shores of the Philippines in 1994 when the first generation of Global Systems for Mobile Communication or GSM handsets was introduced in the country. What paved way for this SMS entrance into the lives of the Filipinos is former President Fidel V. Ramos' two Executive Orders. One of which is E.O. 59 which mandates interconnection among telecom providers which was necessary to ensure other telecommunication companies access to the network of PLDT, which until early 1990s monopolized the telecommunication services in the country. The second order of Ramos was E.O. 109 which is the “Policy to Improve the Provision of Local Exchange Carrier Service” that aims to improve telephone service in rural/underserved areas. In 1995, the Telecommunications Act of the Philippines formally set into place the policy for competition and deregulation of the telecommunications sector.
Given this new situation, PLDT took the first chance of providing the cellular mobile telephone service through the establishment of its subsidiary, Pilipino Telephone Company or more commonly known as Piltel, in 1991. Shortly after, in the same year, it was followed by the second company to provide this new service, Express Telecommunications Co. (Extelcom). Three years later, in February 2004, Smart Communications, or simply known as Smart today, also started its operation. These three companies offered analog services to the people while the following two didn't. Isla Communications (Islacom) began its GSM cellular service in 1993; whereas, Globe Telecom, or simply known as Globe today, launched the same GSM-based service in 1994.
Due to cloning and poor billing services of the three companies, the people's favor for analog services eventually faded and the second generation of mobile phones emerged. Piltel launched CDMA; whereas, Smart joined Globe and Islacom in the GSM camp. In time, GSM proved to be the winner being the only system with SMS capability. According to Lallana, "by the second quarter of 2004, mobile teledensity is estimated at 27.77%, a far cry from the 2.37 mobile teledensity in 1999. By one estimate, mobile teledensity would reach 35-40% in 2005."
As the country shifted to digital technology, several fusions also happened among these telecommunication companies. As First Pacific, the owners of Smart, eventually acquired PLDT, Smart also acquired Piltel. As Globe as also fused with Islacom, only two players dominated the telecommunications game: Smart/Piltel and Globe/Islacom. However, in 2003, a rather new cellular phone provider courageously joined the competition--it was Sun Cellular whose main marketing strategy is the offering of cheaper SMS and voice service.
In 1994, this SMS service was introduced as a free service by the said companies. Thus, when these providers began charging their texting services in 2000, it caused a huge uproar among their subscribers. Nonetheless, in the end, these companies were still able to a charge on SMS, but consumer activism ensured that the prices were reasonable.
As the mobile phone evolved from being just a contemporary walkie-talkie to mini-mobile-computers which can now provide services such as texting, chatting, voice-mail, news updates, e-mailing, Internet browsing, and even creating, receiving and sending of image and audio files, the number of Filipinos joining this texting culture has also inflated dramatically to the point that the Philippines has been crowned the "texting capital of the world."<ref>http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/Other/UNPAN024834.pdf</ref>
Philippines: The Texting Capital of the World
An SWS survey conducted in 2001 strongly proves this point: “Out of the 15 million households in the Philippines, an estimated 2.5 million have a cellular phone, of which 2.3 million have text-messaging capacity. For the entire nation, text messaging is available to 15% of all households in general, but it is available to 53% of ABC households in particular. Of the 2.3 million text-capable households in the nation, 800 thousand are in Metro Manila.”<ref>http://www.sws.org.ph/jan01.htm</ref> The rate increased in 2004 when of the 80 million Filipinos, over 22 million have mobile phones. Filipinos are not alone in this texting craze, however; all over the world, even in 2003, there were already 1.5 billion handsets being used, and around 113 billion messages sent worldwide in that year.<ref>http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/Other/UNPAN024834.pdf</ref> Nonetheless, Filipinos were still able to prove that they are really at the top of this texting mania. This is for in the very short 2007/2008 New Year period, statistics show that of the total number of SMS sent all over the world in that whole year of 2003, approximately 1.23% was actually sent in that very short festive period only in the Philippines. According to Acision, the country has retained its title as the texting capital of the world, sending an astounding 1.39 billion text messages in that short span of time from a subscriber base of just 50 million.<ref>http://www.acision.com/media_detail.aspx?id_menu=media&id_sub=Press%20Releases&id_rd=Huge%20global%20growth%20in%20SMS%20continues%20over%20the%20new%20year%20period</ref>
Other Than Reaching the Other
Apart from being a communication tool, for many Filipinos, the mobile phone has also served to be a gaming instrument--together with the television. In 2002, the said-to-be mother of all text game shows ABSCBN-2's Game K N B? hosted by Kris Aquino started airing. It was the country's first interactive game show using SMS. For a viewer to be a home partner in this show, he/she has to send via SMS a six-letter combination of the letters from the show's complete title, and at the same time, download an ABSCBN-2 P15-worth icon. Those who send the correct six-letter combination for the day has the chance to become the home partner of the studio contestant. In its prime, Game K N B? was said to have received more than a million text entries SMS per show.<ref>http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/Other/UNPAN024834.pdf</ref>
Other than being a tool for joining games on the television, SMS has also been used to enhance the delivery of public services. According to Lallana, "the notable examples of SMS-based services that provide information are the Department of Agriculture’s Presyo and Panahon Text and the Department of Trade and Industry’s TextDTI. The PAYBIR is an SMS-based service that allows citizens to pay taxes through their cell phones. The Office of the President’s TXTGMA and the office of Marikina Mayor’s TXTMCF elicit complaints, comments and suggestions from constituents. These two are examples of SMS-based services that amplify the citizens’ voice. On the other hand, the DILG’s Patrol 117 is an example of a government service that promotes citizen participation in crime prevention."<ref>http://www.apdip.net/projects/e-government/capblg/casestudies/Philippines-Lallana.pdf</ref>
Apart from these, SMS is also now used by people who have online accounts to receive updates from these sites, or to provide updates to these accounts themselves. An example of which is PhPlurk which is used by many Plurk users to update their microblog accounts. PhPlurk has its Globe, Sun, and Smart gateways to which the Plurk users can send their Plurk updates via SMS.<ref>http://phplurk.com/node/2</ref>
Friendster also offers this text service entitled Friendster Mobile. Through availing such, a Friendster user would be able to receive Friendster text alerts on his/her mobile phone about his/her account activity. He/she can accept friend requests, read and approve comments, send and receive messages, update shoutout status, post a bulletin, and also upload photos. Like PhPlurk, this, too, is available for Globe, Sun and Smart subscribers.<ref>http://www.friendster.com/registermobile.php</ref>