PLDT and its wireless unit Smart Communications have agreed with Chinese network gear maker Huawei Technologies to jointly conduct research and development on 5G, or fifth-generation wireless broadband technology.
In a recent visit to the Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen, China, PLDT and Smart chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Huawei executives, led by Jacky Gao Kexin, CEO of Huawei Philippines.
Under the MOU, PLDT and Smart will work with Huawei to shape the strategic and commercial development of the 5G ecosystem in the Philippines.
In particular, the two parties are looking to identify and develop the areas of technological innovation needed to deliver 5G, which is expected to provide the foundation for the digital connected society.
Plans include setting up a 5G innovation lab, and the creation of a showcase network.
“This collaboration with Huawei is an important part of PLDT and Smart’s efforts to bring the most advanced technologies to the Philippines. It will enable us to best serve our customers and help boost the country’s development in a world that is rapidly turning digital,” said Ray C. Espinosa, chief corporate services officer at PLDT and Smart
According to Shawn Longyuxiang, director of Huawei Philippines’ PLDT group account, “We are glad to partner with PLDT and Smart to help develop innovations needed to deliver 5G.”
The statements from PLDT and Huawei did not specifically say if the telco firm has already settled on the Chinese tech titan for the supply and rollout of 5G network equipment after the conclusion of the research and development phase.
Late last year, Smart and Huawei successfully combined five frequencies through Carrier Aggregation (CA), a capability of LTE-A, to achieve data speeds of 1.4 Gbps (gibabit per second). Smart also used CA in April last year to roll out the country’s first LTE-A service.
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.
“With these breakthroughs, we 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 Joaquim Horn, chief technology and information advisor for PLDT and Smart.
“We are focused on ensuring that our current investments in network facilities will enable us to be ready with the necessary infrastructure foundation for 5G when it arrives sometime in 2020,” added Horn.
Smart is in the middle of a multi-year, multi-million dollar nationwide network expansion program to improve both coverage and quality of service, particularly its 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) service.
A major leg of this network expansion was recently completed in Metro Davao, where Smart users are already reporting much improved mobile data experience.
The rollout is currently underway in Metro Manila and in Metro Cebu, and is expected to significantly boost Smart’s voice, SMS, and mobile data services, specially its indoor LTE coverage, in these urban centers.
An upgrade of PLDT’s fixed access networks, part of the company’s transformation toward 5G-readiness, is also underway.
Initial tests done by Smart have found that the ongoing network rollout in and around Metro Manila has begun to pay off, with tests in Rizal province showing LTE download speeds of up to 18 Mbps, while tests in selected indoor and outdoor areas in Cebu have also generated download speeds in excess of 20 Mbps.
These are already marked improvements from recently released findings of J.P. Morgan Securities’ Asia Network Quality Report for the last quarter of 2016, which found that among Philippine carriers, Smart posted the highest overall LTE download speeds at 9.17 Mbps.
The report, which cited crowd-sourced data gathered by wireless coverage research firm Open Signal, also found Smart leading in NCR for 3G, with download speeds of 2.85 Mbps.
“Smart is focused on LTE, as it provides us the best 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), and will be an integral part of our future 5G network,” said Horn.