Mobile services provider Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), wireless arm of the Philippines' largest integrated telco PLDT, continues to lead with the preparation of new features that further enhance 5G capacity and coverage.
Smart with its technology partners Ericsson, Huawei and a leading 5G smartphone vendor, have successfully tested 5G Carrier Aggregation (CA), making it one of the first mobile operators in Asia Pacific, to test CA in the live 5G network. CA combines two or more separate bands of radio frequencies to create a bigger pipe for even faster data rates, increasing the capacity thus improving the overall 5G user experience.
"CA is already widely available in SMART’s LTE today, signified by LTE-A or LTE+ icons on users' phones. With the right 5G CA-capable phones supporting these frequency bands, customers will be able to have two bands of 5G in addition to the LTE bands, enabling even higher speeds and better performance, especially for applications that have very high demand for data, such as Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) and streaming of high-definition videos, for example," said Arvin L. Siena, PLDT Vice President and Head of Technology Strategy and Transformation Office.
The mid-band 5G CA, on 2.6GHz (n41) and on 3.5GHz (n78), tests were carried out with a leading 5G smartphone vendor’s phone. It was also tested with the 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) device from Huawei, the 5G CPE Pro 2.
In addition to this, Smart also successfully tested 5G CA on the 5G low-band 700MHz (n28) and the 5G mid-band 3.5GHz band (n78), with Huawei’s Mate 40 Pro 5G smartphone. This combination of frequency enables greater flexibility, where the low band provides wider coverage, and the mid-band provides higher capacity where required, like in sports arenas and open-air event venues, for example.
Leader in 5G
These latest developments are part of Smart's strategy in deploying 5G across the country. 5G has been embedded in Smart’s network planning over the past five years, with Smart conducting tests with 5G starting in 2016.
In 2018, it fired up the country’s first 5G base stations in Makati with Huawei and the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga with Ericsson. In 2019, Smart also launched the first Smart 5G Lifestyle hub and 5G-enabled shopping mall in Araneta City, as well as the first Smart 5G campus at the Ateneo de Manila University with Nokia. These multi-vendor collaborations bring global use cases for Enterprise customers to innovate and fast-track their digital transformation journey.
It also recently fired up 5G at the Gariath Concepts esports venue in Quezon City, the first 5G-powered esports hub in the country, and at the TV5 Media Center in Mandaluyong City, the first 5G Media City. It also recently brought the country’s first 5G-powered sports broadcast at the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in Clark Freeport in Pampanga.
Smart, which launched its 5G service commercially in July, is also the first to roll out Smart 5G nationwide. These include key areas in Visayas and Mindanao in Boracay, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao, urban areas like the Makati Central Business District (CBD), Bonifacio Global City CBD, Araneta City, Mall of Asia Bay Area, North Avenue in Quezon City, Taft Avenue in Manila, Ortigas CBD, New Clark City in Pampanga, EDSA, strategic locations in the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and the cities of Manila, Quezon City, Makati, Taguig, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Paranaque, Valenzuela, Caloocan, Navotas, San Juan, and Pasay.
Steady investment effort
These initiatives form a large part of the PLDT Group’s sustained investments in their network, which totaled some Php260 billion from 2015 to 2019. With the surge in demand for data, PLDT and Smart are prepared to invest between Php 88 billion and Php 92 billion in 2021 to meet the requirements of mobile and fixed line customers.
PLDT's fiber infrastructure, which is the most extensive in the country by far, supports Smart's 5G, 4G, 3G and 2G networks, which cover 96% of the population and are present in 95% of cities and municipalities. As of November, Smart has also increased the number of its base stations to over 58,000, increasing the number of base stations by 20% compared to end-2019. Smart has also rolled out additional 5G sites as it accelerates its 5G commercial services nationwide.