19 and Feeling Young! (Part 1 of 2)
By Chito Reyes
August 1994 is when Globe opened its doors to subscribers and the Philippine Telecom industry would never be the same again.
I remember falling in line early in the morning at the ground floor of the Valero Tower in Salcedo Village so I could be one of the first paying subscribers of this new mobile telco. For us pioneering subscribers, it was a risk that we had to take from a new player eager to show its worth by offering digital wireless telephony in a relatively new platform called GSM.
It was an era where deregulation was new as most would choose to remain with a monolithic telco which controlled most landlines and have pioneered in cellphone services using 2 brands (PLDT and PILTEL). Although change was inevitable, the transition was so slow to protect business interests and telcos would make it hard to call from one network to another.
It was a new concept that a card would be inserted in a phone thereby enabling the device to read information rendering the phone to be personalized with the subscriber’s number, contacts and even messages that were previously stored. Some phones accepted cards the size of a credit card while most, the regular mini sim. Globe called their device package – the Handy Phone.
In the beginning, nobody minded SMS even though it was unlimited as we wanted to be differentiated from owners of pagers, the most prevalent device in receiving messages at that time. But even with that, Globe had operators to receive messages from callers to be transmitted to our GSM phones therefore making pagers out of our Handy Phones.
When the innovation started to wear off, the entertainment value prospered. Suddenly, there was a surge of jokes being circulated through SMS and it was just hard to resist not reading them in between the pressures of work and the realities of life… never mind the pagers, they were becoming passé. It was “in” to read joke messages from the Handy Phones and to spread them around to everyone through SMS… it is no wonder how the Philippines became the text capital of the world… Imagine the backlash when telcos started to cap and charge SMS usage and the world became a smaller joking place (pun intended). But such had to be done amidst a lot of protests just to be able to control abuses to the network.
International roaming was crude… one could bring the Handy Phone to other countries but Globe would give you a different sim specific to that country. The implementation was nevertheless very cost effective as we would just get charged local rates and then converted into Philippine Peso in our billing statements. We had to surrender the foreign sim to the Globe office once we returned to the Philippines. Many were shocked at their charges when number portability was implemented within international borders… but such was the whole idea behind GSM… not only should it be handy, but the number must also be mobile.