SMART Communications, the wireless unit of telecommunications giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), said it will start using this year the portion of the 700 MHz frequency that PLDT acquired from San Miguel Corp. (SMC) to accelerate and improve its broadband service.
Joachim Horn, PLDT and Smart’s chief technology and information advisor, said that the utilization of the 700 MHz frequency, combined with other frequency bands, will allow the company to accelerate the deployment of its LTE, or Long Term Evolution service—resulting in faster, more reliable and affordable internet services nationwide.
The highly prized low-band 700 MHz has a longer range and provides better indoor coverage than high band frequencies. Smart gained access to this and other additional frequencies when PLDT acquired 50 percent of the telecom assets of SMC last week.
LTE is fourth-generation (4G) mobile phone technology that currently provides the fastest wireless data service commercially available.
About 45 percent of the subscribers of PLDT’s wireless brands Smart and Sun are now using smartphones, up from only 30 percent last year. The majority of these are 3G/HSPA handsets, but the number of LTE handsets is rising fast as the range of available models increases and handset prices decline.
Horn said Smart will employ a two-pronged approach in the deployment of LTE services on 700 MHz, including network expansion and availability of LTE-enabled smartphones.
“Our strategy has two legs. First is the network. Deploying LTE on 700 MHz combines a powerful frequency with the most advanced mobile phone technology,” Horn said.
“Second are the devices. We have been holding discussions with device manufacturers so that more affordable LTE smartphones and tablets using 700 MHz will soon be available in the country,” he added.
This combination of advanced network and devices will enable PLDT and Smart to provide the best digital experience to its customers across the country, he said.
Smart is currently in the middle of a three-year network improvement program that includes a number of simultaneous initiatives.
One activity aims to synergize the mobile phone networks of Smart and Sun in order to improve the coverage and service quality for subscribers of both brands.
Another initiative is expand the roll out of Smart’s 3G and 4G services.
Also, Smart has introduced to the country the next stage of development of LTE called LTE-Advanced (LTE-A), also referred to as 4.5G.
Last April, Smart fired up the country’s first 4.5G service in the resort island of Boracay using a feature of LTE-A called carrier aggregation, which combines two or more frequency bands to deliver bigger bandwidth to mobile phone users. This is like putting together several lanes of a highway so that vehicular traffic can flow more freely and at a faster rate. Using Samsung handsets capable of carrier aggregation, Smart posted data speeds of up to 250 Mbps in Boracay.
“This technology will help address the increasing demand for LTE and high-speed mobile data,” Horn said, citing the latest data by UK-based global analyst CCS Insight.
According to CCS Insight, global shipment of LTE devices almost doubled from 443 million in 2014 to 900 million in 2015. This year, LTE-capable devices are expected to account for half of all smartphone shipments worldwide, further rising to about three quarters of the global market by 2020.
“As LTE devices become more affordable and accessible, we are at the same time stepping up our efforts to deploy our LTE service using the most efficient set of frequencies,” Horn added.
Smart’s drive to boost data coverage and capacity across the country forms a major part of the PLDT Group’s capital expenditure program. PLDT has set aside about P43 billion in total capex for 2016. It has allocated an additional $100 million to utilize the additional frequencies now available to Smart as a result of the recent acquisition of San Miguel’s telecom assets.