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Telecommunication

Philippine telecom PLDT's revenue hits record as new rival looms

CEO Manuel Pangilinan warns '2021 comes with its own set of challenges'

PLDT, one of the Philippines' two major telecom providers, enjoyed surging demand for internet services in 2020.   © Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippines' largest telecom company PLDT said on Thursday its service revenue hit a record-high last year due to surging demand for internet service during the coronavirus pandemic.

PLDT, which is backed by Japan's NTT Group, said its consolidated service revenue increased 9% to 171.5 billion pesos ($3.53 billion), lifted largely by its data and broadband business, whose revenue jumped 18% to 124.5 billion pesos. Service revenue accounts for 96% of the company's topline and covers fixed-line and wireless telecom and internet businesses.

The 2020 results represent a rare piece of good news in an economy that shrank by a record 9.5% last year and in an industry that has been under intense pressure from President Rodrigo Duterte to improve its offerings.

The record performance also comes as PLDT and Globe Telecom, a joint venture between local conglomerate Ayala and Singapore Telecommunications, brace for new competition. China Telecom-backed Dito Telecommunity is scheduled to begin offering services on Monday, bringing an end to the longstanding PLDT-Globe duopoly.

According to PLDT, demand for internet connectivity last year was spurred by work-from-home and online learning adopted after the government imposed one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns to combat the coronavirus.

PLDT said core net income, which excludes exceptional items and is used by the company for profit guidance, rose 4% to 28 billion pesos.

Last year's results add momentum to PLDT's turnaround after years of struggling to compete with Globe Telecom, which took the lead in the mobile segment in 2016. PLDT has focused on bolstering its fixed broadband business, which had 429,000 km of fiber infrastructure as of the end of 2020 and covered 9 million homes. The company plans to add 125 km of fiber this year.

PLDT Chairman and CEO Manuel Pangilinan said the company expects single-digit revenue growth this year and core income to rise to between 29 billion and 30 billion pesos. But despite surviving what Pangilinan called "the year from hell," the executive warned of another challenging year ahead.

"It is tempting to say that we have seen the worst, but 2021 comes with its own set of challenges -- a worrisome economic outlook, prolonged uncertainty on the pandemic with possible new waves, mutations and a delayed vaccine rollout and, of course, the entry of heightened competition from both new and current players," Pangilinan said.

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