As 2017 comes to a close, PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) is expected to finish the upgrade of more than 4,200 3G and LTE sites across the country as part of its network modernization effort.
“Our commitment to the National Telecommunications Commission is to meet 90% municipality coverage next year for 3G and 4G mobile broadband, and we are well on-track to meet this,” said Joachim Horn, chief technology and information advisor for PLDT and Smart.
“We are already at about 89%, so we will definitely meet that target early next year,” Horn added.
For the past year, Smart has stepped-up its mobile data roll-out significantly, particularly for LTE. “This year, we more than doubled the number of sites which are capable of LTE,” said Horn, citing as an example Metro Manila, where about 90% of sites already have LTE.
Improvements are already being felt throughout Metro Manila. Recent internal tests in Parañaque, for example, recorded median LTE download speeds of 17.9 Mbps and median upload speeds of 12 Mbps, while median download and upload speeds of 27.6 Mbps and 16.1 Mbps, respectively, were posted in Caloocan. In Taguig, Smart LTE posted median download speeds of 18.6 Mbps, while median upload speeds were at 13.7 Mbps.
A second wave of upgrades
Horn also cited “a second wave of upgrades” for Smart’s LTE sites—four-component carrier aggregation, or 4CC. “We already tried this in Boracay, and we have just completed the upgrade of Marikina, where we have upgraded all base stations with 4-carrier aggregation,” said Horn. “The benefit for the customer is much higher capacity, and much higher speeds. So if you go to Marikina, you will easily be able to achieve more than 100 Mbps—on your phone,” he added.
“We are starting in Marikina, but our intention is to roll this out in Metro Manila in steps. And the next area is Quezon City,” said Horn.
“Carrier Aggregation” (CA) allows for the combination two or more radio frequency bands in order to deliver bigger bandwidth and much faster data speeds to mobile users. 4CC aggregation features the combination of four separate spectrum blocks to deliver much greater capacity and speeds.
Horn stressed that users need to be using 4CC-capable devices and LTE SIMs to be able to fully enjoy 4CC speeds.
Earlier this year, Smart activated 4CC in Boracay, reaching average speeds of 280 Mbps in initial runs using Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, 4CC carrier aggregation-capable smartphones available in the market.
After the initial deployment of 4CC technology in Metro Manila, Smart’s internal tests showed consistent delivery of speeds breaching 300 Mbps in a single-user scenario, and over 200 Mbps in a multi-user, daytime set-up.
“This only goes to show that we have put in place a network that is capable of providing these high speeds,” Horn said.
Smart has finished its LTE deployment in Metro Davao and Metro Cebu, in the island of Boracay, and in the province of Rizal. It is currently underway in Metro Manila and in key cities in other parts of the country.
Smart is also partnering with device vendors in providing more affordable LTE-capable smartphones in the market, as well as actively urging its customers to upgrade to LTE SIMs so they can maximize the Smart’s LTE network. It recently launched an LTE SIM check via SMS program, where customers can text SIMCHECK to 5832 to check if their SIMS are LTE-capable already or not.