PLDT mobile unit Smart Communications is undertaking a major network expansion in Metro Manila over the next three months, to improve the coverage and quality of its voice, SMS, and mobile internet, particularly its LTE (Long Term Evolution) service.
Once completed, the rollout is expected to significantly boost the reach of Smart’s LTE and 3G mobile data services across all 17 of the cities and municipalities of Metro Manila.
The biggest gain will be in indoor LTE coverage, which will quadruple, while indoor 3G coverage will double in Metro Manila, the country’s capital and also the most densely populated area.
“Smart is rolling out the fastest and most powerful mobile data network in the country, and we are focused on improving indoor coverage since we know that people use mobile internet services mostly indoors, particularly in Metro Manila – in their homes, offices, restaurants, coffee shops, and the like,” said Joachim Horn, chief technology and information advisor for PLDT and Smart.
According to Horn, Smart is deploying new base station equipment in about 2,500 cell sites across Metro Manila, that use low-frequency bands such as 700 MHz, 850 MHz, and 900 MHz for its LTE and 3G services, since these frequency bands cover a larger area and provide better indoor signals.
The rollout also includes deploying high-frequency bands like 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz, to increase the capacity of each Smart cell site to handle more calls, texts, and ever-increasing mobile data traffic.
Three-year network improvement program
Smart started this network overhaul program in Boracay and Metro Davao in the early part of 2016, where subscribers have since reported big improvements in the quality of their LTE services.
Currently ongoing in Metro Cebu, Smart intends to bring the rollout to other parts of the Philippines to significantly improve the mobile internet experience of the rest of its user base — the largest in the country.
According to Horn, “we are accelerating our LTE deployment because LTE, an all-IP (internet protocol) network, delivers a superior experience to customers, particularly for data”.
At the same time, Smart is working closely with leading handset manufacturers to bring more affordable LTE handsets to the Philippine market.
“LTE provides us the right platform to bring high-speed mobile internet throughout the country. LTE facilities, with strengthened transport links, can be quickly upgraded to LTE-Advanced (LTE-A), which can provide greater capacity and faster data speeds,” added Horn.
In the three-year network roll-out plan that parent-company PLDT submitted to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in July last year, Smart said it will make LTE progressively available to users in 1,551 cities and municipalities across the country by end-2018.
The plan includes the use of the 700 MHz frequency that Smart obtained access to under a co-use arrangement, after the acquisition of the telecoms business of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) by PLDT and Globe Telecom in May last year.
Broad effort to improve experience of Smart, TNT, and Sun subscribers
Even with LTE as the focus of Smart’s nationwide network improvement program, Horn added that it is just part of a broader effort to improve the overall quality of service available to all Smart, TNT, and Sun subscribers all over the country.
Late last year, the company completed the integration of the Smart and Sun mobile networks, enabling Smart to install more new base stations for 2G, 3G, and LTE technologies to better serve the subscribers of both brands.
Anticipating the rise of bandwidth-heavy services like video-streaming and gaming, Smart also began in April last year to roll out the country’s first LTE-A service, using a capability called “Carrier Aggregation.”
Initially deployed in Boracay and soon in major urban areas such as Metro Davao, Metro Cebu, and Metro Manila, Smart’s LTE-A service delivers peak speeds of more than 100 Mbps to users with LTE-A capable devices.
Through Carrier Aggregation, or the capability of LTE-A to combine two or more radio frequency bands in order to deliver bigger bandwidth and much faster data speeds to mobile users — Smart, together with Huawei, hit another record last year when it successfully combined five frequencies to achieve data speeds over 1 Gbps (gibabit per second).
Abreast with the world’s most advanced operators
The breakthrough put Smart in the league of just a handful of leading operators actively working on ultra-high speed wireless data capacity in anticipation of demand for gigabit speeds.
In Europe, regulatory initiatives are currently underway to encourage investments in ultrafast broadband infrastructure, towards what is being called the “Gigabit Society”.
The goal is for operators to be able to provide a standard 1 Gbps speed to all individual subscribers, public and private institutions, rural and urban households, and seamless 5G coverage across all major transport routes and hubs.
“With this breakthrough, we have successfully demonstrated that very high speeds demanded by the advent of the ‘Gigabit Society’ can be supported using LTE technology, and with the spectrum available to PLDT and Smart,” said Horn.
“We are also focused on ensuring that our current investments in network facilities will enable us to be ready for 5G when it arrives sometime in 2020,” added Horn.
As part of preparing for future advances in technology, Smart broke new record late last year when, in a demo done together with Nokia, it achieved 5G speeds of 2.5 Gbps for the first time in the Philippines.
According to Manuel V. Pangilinan, Chairman and CEO of PLDT and Smart, “this is a key part of our efforts to transform the PLDT and Smart network into the country’s most future-ready data infrastructure delivering a wide range of gigabit digital solutions.”