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THE POPULARITY of social networking websites has grown sharply over the last year among Filipino mobile device users, due largely to the proliferation of cheap and unlimited data services, a survey revealed recently.

In a press briefing, officials of TNS, an international media research firm, said that a total of 91 percent of mobile device users in the country this year access sites such as Facebook. This marks a sharp increase from the 54 percent penetration for the same population in 2010.

Similarly, the survey also revealed that Filipino users of microblogging sites like Twitter on their mobile devices—like smartphones and tablets—rose to 17 percent in 2011 from only 4 percent last year.

The results of “Mobile Life 2011” survey was part of a broader research study conducted globally to help understand the habits of present-day mobile consumers. Now on its sixth year, Mobile Life 2011 is the result of more than 25,000 hours of interviews with over 34,000 respondents in 43 countries, including the Philippines.

The other use for mobile devices that saw a sharp increase in 2011 was as a tool for job searches. This year, 11 percent of Filipino users searched for jobs through their mobile devices, compared to only 2 percent in 2010.

Filipinos using mobile devices for Internet search and video site viewing stayed almost unchanged this year from last year, while usage for music sites and so-called “fun games and time killers” declined sharply. The TNS survey revealed that about 81 percent of the country’s 90-million-strong population own mobile phones, with at least 21 percent owning more than one SIM card.

An estimated 73 percent of mobile phone users use their devices to send personal messages. Filipinos also use their mobile devices to enjoy digital music, video calling, bluetooth functionality, and as a planner for their calendar functions.
While majority of Filipinos continue to use the short messaging service (SMS) on their mobile devices, the levels have been declining as social networking steps into the picture.

“Research results of Mobile Life 2011 highlighted that as ‘static’ functionality such as SMS and still imaging become commoditized, growth will be driven through further demand for social functionality and new demands for video calling, streaming and sharing services,” said TNS managing director Gary de Ocampo.

The number of mobile Web users visiting social networking sites grew from 30 percent to 46 percent globally, and from 26 percent to 50 percent in emerging markets, leapfrogging many of the developed markets. In the Philippines, Facebook ranked third as the top mobile content and service provider.