PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart’s (Smart Communications Inc.) accelerated deployment of Long Term Evolution (LTE) and LTE-Advanced sites nationwide has further driven mobile data usage, which increased faster than industry growth in the first half of the year.
To date, more than 60 percent of Smart’s sites nationwide have already been upgraded to LTE, while 62 percent of Smart’s LTE sites across the country are already LTE-A capable. Amid these network upgrade efforts, mobile data traffic grew by 79 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017, higher than the industry year-on-year growth of 54 percent for the same period.
Smart has also fired up up to 5-component-carrier (5CC) aggregation in Metro Manila’s most populous metropolis, Quezon City. It has previously activated 5CC in Boracay and Marikina, where speeds of over 500 Mbps were achieved using 5CC-capable smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S9.
Carrier aggregation (CA) is a feature of LTE-A which enables the combination of two or more radio frequency bands in order to deliver bigger bandwidth and much faster data speeds to mobile phone users. 2-Component Carrier (2CC) carrier aggregation features the combination of two frequencies, while 3CC involves the combination of three frequencies, 4CC combines four bands, and 5CC, five bands.
According to Smart, the ramped-up rollout helped the telco company to lead in terms of LTE download speeds and has likewise continuously narrowed the gap with its competitor in terms of LTE availability, according to the latest Mobile Networks Update by independent mobile analytics firm OpenSignal.
The report, which covers the months of May to July this year, showed Smart LTE download speeds nationwide at 13.09 Mbps, well ahead of the competitor’s 7.34 Mbps. In terms of LTE availability, Smart has now narrowed the lead to under 4 percentage points at 64 percent, compared to competition’s 67.79 percent.
“In our latest test period, Smart closed the gap in 4G availability to less than 4 percentage points. Smart’s growth in 4G reach has been quite phenomenal lately. 18 months ago, Smart’s 4G availability score languished below 40 percent,” OpenSignal said in its latest report, which can be viewed on their website.
OpenSignal also cited Smart’s increased overall speeds and attributed it to “its rapid rise in 4G availability as its customers have gained access to 4G connections more often.”
Across all measured areas, Smart also led in LTE download speeds: at 15.24 in National Capital Region (vs. 8.43 Mbps); 13.48 Mbps in North Central Luzon (vs. 6.02 Mbps); 10.59 Mbps in South Luzon (vs 6.47 Mbps); 10.49 Mbps in the Visayas (vs 7.42 Mbps); and 12.23 Mbps in Mindanao (vs 6.95 Mbps).
In terms of LTE availability, Smart also said that its LTE now leads in the Visayas at 65.95 percent (vs 62.29 percent) and is further closing the gap in Metro Manila at 78.55 percent (vs 79.73 percent).
As of end-June, Smart has installed over 3,900 new LTE base stations across the country, not only to expand LTE coverage but also to lay the ground for LTE-A, which can provide even greater capacity and speeds to users with capable smartphones. This puts the total count of LTE base stations at over 12,600.
Underpinning PLDT and Smart’s fixed and mobile network roll-out was the expansion of PLDT’s fiber optic transmission and distribution network. In the first half of 2018, PLDT increased its fiber footprint to about 204,000 kilometers after adding over 29,000 kilometers of fiber cable, 97 percent of its full-year 2018 target. PLDT’s fiber network, the most extensive in the country, also supports Smart’s mobile network by providing high-capacity fiber connections for LTE base stations.
Smart is on track to fulfilling its commitment to the National Telecommunications Commission to cover 90 percent of the country’s cities and municipalities with mobile data service by the end of this year.
PLDT has committed historic levels of resources to support network transformation which is estimated to amount to US$ 5 billion from 2016 to 2020, with capital expenditures expected to reach P58 billion this year.