With Internet usage rising due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. is further upgrading its mobile data service by boosting the capacity of its 4G/LTE network throughout the country.
This month, Smart is reallocating its assigned 1800 MHz frequencies from 2G to 4G/LTE. This shift will impact on a large share of Smart’s LTE sites throughout the country and will increase the volume of data traffic that these facilities can handle.
This reallocation program began in the Visayas region on April 12 and will continue across the country over the next two weeks.
LTE is an all Internet-protocol data network that offers the fastest and most widely available data service in the country today. Enhancing its LTE service thus offers Smart the fastest way to improve wireless data service throughout the country.
Moreover, the positive impact of this change is enhanced by the fact that the 1800 MHz band is the most commonly-used frequency among LTE smartphones available in the market today. As a result, the vast majority of Smart customers using LTE handsets will get to enjoy the improved service.
“We are making this transition at this time because the usage patterns of our customers have been shifting decisively in favor of data and the Internet. The majority of our customers have already moved from using 2G handsets to smartphones, and, increasingly, to LTE devices,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT-Smart senior vice president for Network Planning and Engineering.
“This migration to data and digital services has stepped up since the COVID-19 outbreak. People are increasingly relying on their smartphones to keep them connected to their loved ones, to work or study from home, or to stream video and mobile games. Data connectivity is also essential to the frontline agencies and their people who are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19,” he explained.
Tamayo added that customers using 2G handsets will continue to be well-served because Smart’s network retains sufficient capacity to handle voice calls and SMS on 2G.
"We are optimizing our network resources and using our frequencies in the most efficient way possible. We also welcome the use of additional frequencies that can be temporarily loaned to us during this enhanced community quarantine," said Tamayo.
Mobile data traffic on Smart’s network hit a record-high of 1.6 Exabytes (1,612 Petabytes) in 2019, double the 824 petabytes posted in 2018, and more than four times compared to 2017 levels. The exponential growth in data traffic has been mainly from video streaming, social networking and gaming—activities which need the support of robust networks to ensure quality customer experience.
To support this growing data traffic and the rising number of LTE smartphone users, Smart has continued to expand the reach and capacity of its mobile networks across the country. In 2019, Smart increased the number of its 4G/LTE stations by 51% to about 24,600, as well as its 3G base stations by about 19% to 13,800. As of end-December 2019, Smart’s mobile coverage has expanded to 94% of the country’s population.
Smart’s network is supported by PLDT’s fiber infrastructure, which provide high-capacity links for LTE base stations. In 2019, PLDT increased its total fiber footprint by 32% to 322,400 kilometers, the country’s most extensive digital backbone and transport network.
Smart’s LTE rollout has also been enhanced by the activation of LTE’s carrier aggregation feature, which enables the combination of the capacity of up to five LTE base stations to deliver faster data speeds.
This sustained LTE rollout has enabled Smart to provide better internet services, as also cited by several international internet analytics firms. For example, a recent report by independent mobile analytics firm Opensignal* said Smart remained ahead of competition in terms of 4G Availability, Video Experience, Upload and Download Speed Experience, Voice App Experience and Games Experience.
* Opensignal Awards – Philippines: Mobile Network Experience Report April 2020, based on independent analysis of mobile measurements recorded during the period November 1, 2019 – January 29, 2020 © 2020 Opensignal Limited.