Metro Manila, Philippines (July 27, 2016) – On July 22, 2016, Smart Communications’ (Smart) parent PLDT Inc. submitted a three-year network roll-out plan to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). Smart plans to cover 95% of the country’s cities and municipalities with Long-Term Evolution (LTE) service by the end of 2018. Moreover, Smart enhanced its existing 2G GSM network and already activated a few 4G LTE cell sites on the 700 MHz frequency.

Three-year network roll-out plan

According to the plan, Smart will expand its services using the network’s existing frequency allocations combined with the new spectrum it acquired under a co-use agreement with Bell Telecommunications (BellTell) and other telecom networks under the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) group.

PLDT, Smart submit 3-year network rollout plan to NTC. In photo, PLDT Regulatory Head Ray Espinosa (6th from left) and PLDT-Smart Chief Technology and Information Advisor Joachim Horn (2nd from left) present copies of the plan to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba (3rd from left). Also in photo are (from left): Smart Network Services Head Mar Tamayo, NTC Deputy Commissioners Delilah Deles and Edgardo Cabarios, Smart Legal and Regulatory Head Eric Español, PLDT’s Fred Carrera, Smart’s Roy Ibay, and PLDT Public Affairs Group Head Ramon Isberto. Photo courtesy of Smart Communications.

Submission of the network plan is one of the conditions set by NTC in approving the co-use agreement among Smart, Globe and SMC. The PLDT-Smart group aims to accomplish the following within three (3) years:

  • Smart will activate 360 LTE cell sites in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao using the 700 MHz spectrum together with existing frequencies by the end of 2016. This will cover nearly 40% of the country’s 1,634 cities and municipalities.
  • LTE services will be deployed to other key cities and major municipalities by the end of 2017.
  • LTE coverage in 1,551 cities and municipalities, equivalent to 95% coverage by the end of 2018.
  • Install the necessary infrastructure such as robust transport system to connect its nationwide base stations, along with international submarine cables systems that provide massive capacity within 3 years and allow local caching of content normally accessed by Filipino users.
  • Smart will deploy the enhanced version of 4G LTE called LTE-Advanced (LTE-A), also known as 4.5G. In April 2016, Smart fired up the country’s first 4.5G service in Boracay island. The service uses a unique feature of LTE-A called the “carrier aggregation” where two (2) or more frequency bands are combined to provide higher bandwidth to mobile internet users.

Smart’s network upgrade aims to boost data coverage and capacity across the country and forms part of the PLDT Group’s capital expenditure (capex) program. PLDT has earmarked around Php43 billion in capex for 2016. It has also allocated an additional US$100 million to make use of the additional frequencies previously assigned to SMC. The consideration for the acquisition of the telecommunications businesses of SMC is Php69.1 billion with PLDT having 50% equity interest, while the remaining 50% belongs to Globe.

4G LTE technology

LTE, the fourth-generation (4G) mobile phone technology, is an all-IP (internet protocol) network and currently provides the fastest wireless data service commercially available. Smart commercially launched its LTE service in 2012, in areas with high population concentration, where there are customers who have already purchased 4G LTE handsets requiring high-bandwidth services.

Surge in mobile data traffic

Smart reported that almost 50% of the group’s combined 70 million subscribers are already using smartphones. The majority of these are using 3G or HSPA+ handsets. Smart cited the rapid growth in the number of users with 4G LTE handsets as the range of available models increases and the handset prices decline. With this, Smart expects a surge in mobile data traffic as more 4G or LTE device users access the network. Smart also identified the existing network infrastructure as very critical component of its LTE roll-out. Smart said it is also working with device manufacturers so that they can offer affordable 4G LTE handsets, tablets, and pocket WiFis that can run on multiple frequencies, to give more users access to the data network.

GSM (2G) network upgrade

Smart has already enhanced its Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network, also known as 2G network by activating additional 200 new cell sites across the country, bringing the total number of sites to 2,221, using the 1800 MHz frequency under the co-use agreement with SMC.

These sites are scattered in 656 cities and municipalities in 73 provinces in the country. Currently, there are 262 sites in Metro Manila, 883 in North Luzon, 679 in South Luzon, 116 in the Visayas (116) and 281 in Mindanao. This will improve the mobile phone experience of more than 70 million Smart, Talk ‘N Text (TNT), and Sun Cellular subscribers nationwide. The enhanced 2G network can handle more voice calls and text messages, particularly in high density urban areas.

700 MHz frequency for LTE deployment

To date, Smart has already fired up eight (8) LTE cell sites using the 700 MHz spectrum. Five of these LTE cell sites are located in Davao City and one (1) each in Tanay (Rizal), Bacoor (Cavite) and Manggahan (Pasig City). Smart also disclosed that it is currently in the process of ordering the necessary equipment for its LTE network roll-out.

The 700 MHz spectrum has a longer range and better indoor penetration, allowing Smart to improve the mobile data experience of LTE users, enhance the capacity of its data network and rapidly expand the coverage not only in urban cities but also in rural areas in the country.

Other frequencies from the SMC deal

Out of the SMC deal, Smart will make use of additional bandwidth in the 2300 and 2600 MHz frequencies to provide the required capacity to handle current and future high-speed data traffic. Aside from the 700 MHz band, Smart also gained access to the 900, 1800, 2300, and 2600 MHz of radio frequencies previously assigned to SMC. [techthetruth]

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