Smart Communications said it will undertake a major network expansion in Metro Manila over the next three months to improve the coverage and quality of its mobile Internet, particularly its LTE 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 upgrade comes after news broke out that its fierce rival, Globe Telecom, has surpassed Smart in terms of subscriber base for the first time.
According to Smart, the LTE expansion will boost indoor coverage, which will quadruple, while indoor 3G coverage will double in Metro Manila
“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 mobile data traffic.
Smart started the 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.
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).
“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.