More and more Filipinos, like in other parts of the world, access the Internet through smartphones. The number of smartphone users in the Philippines are expected to more than double from about 40 million in 2016 to 90 million by 2021, according to the 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report (Jiao, 2016). To put these figures into perspective, one has to consider that the Philippine population is expected to reach about 109 million by the end of 2019 (Philippine Commission on Population, 2018, cited by Cepeda, 2018).
About 87 percent of Filipino adults use mobile phones, according to a 2018 report by advertising agency We Are Social and social media management platform company Hootsuite. In terms of mobile activity, the most common is using a mobile messenger (33 percent), followed by watching videos (26 percent) and playing games (23 percent).
The mobile Internet penetration rate was said to be increasing by 30 million users every year (Garcia, 2016), despite the dismally poor mobile Internet speeds. In the "State of the LTE report" published by mobile network research firm OpenSignal, the speed and availability of the long-term evolution or LTE mobile connection in the country fared so poorly that it ranked 74th out of 77 countries (Marcelo, 2018).
The use of mobile phones has penetrated everyday life to the extent that even the poorest consider mobile phone services as a "necessity" despite it being a greater cost burden for those at the "bottom of the pyramid" (Aguero, de Silva, and Kang, 2011, p 19). The ultra-sensitive smartphone market reflects the massive income disparity in the Philippines, as the ultra-low-end smartphones (PhP 5,000 or US$96 and below) dominate at 59 percent market share, followed by low-end and mid-range smartphones at 35 percent market share (Ooi, 2018, cited by Reyes, 2018). The manufacturer Cherry Mobile, in particular, leads at 23 percent market share owing to its "pervasive presence in the provinces" coupled by its low-end prices (International Data Corp, 2018, cited by Reyes, 2018). These figures are congruent with the fact that 4G, and even 3G, Internet connectivity is absent in many rural areas especially in the coastal areas of major island groups Visayas and Mindanao, which could explain the lesser need for mobile Internet activity (eg availing of services online), and hence the lesser preference for more capable but higher-priced smartphones.
The use of mobile phones for grassroots activity has been documented in several academic and professional works. SMS has been used for grassroots health communication in remote villages in the Philippines, as in the case of how government barangay (village) health workers communicate with stakeholders in a rural area at southern Philippines (see Sumaylo, 2013). Among health professionals and students, basic mobile phones remain to be the most used media at home and at work (Gavino, Ho, Wee, Marcelo, and Fontelo, 2013, p 303).
Mobile phone usage has also found its way into indigenous communities in highly remote areas. For example, according to an ethnographic study (Zapata, 2016), the Applai and Bontok Igorot communities in the Cordillera mountain range use mobile phones as a way of disseminating information to the community (as opposed to visiting all homes to share news). The usage of mobile phones is heavily governed by the "indigenous social code" (p 1) and is still hindered somewhat by infrastructure inadequacies.