Smart starts network expansion to improve LTE coverage in Metro

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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.

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Joachim Horn, chief technology and information advisor for PLDT and Smart, said 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.

“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 Horn.

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.

3-yr 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.

Smart is also working closely with leading handset manufacturers to bring more affordable LTE handsets to the Philippine market.

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.

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, 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 (Gigabit per second).

“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.

Smart broke a 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.”

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