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Smart strengthens lead in LTE download speeds, says OpenSignal

PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. has almost doubled its overall mobile data download speeds over the past year largely because of improved LTE availability and speeds, according to a just-released analysis by independent mobile analytics company OpenSignal.

The analysis report, which covers the months of May 2017 to April 2018 and is available on OpenSignal’s blog, noted the country’s “phenomenal growth in overall download speed”.  “Overall download speed” is an OpenSignal metric that takes into account 4G and 3G download speeds, and, the level of access consumers have to each type of network, which is referred to as “availability”.

“From our March-to-May 2017 test period to our most recent February-to-April test period… Smart’s overall speed almost doubled in our measurements. That’s amazing growth for any operator,” OpenSignal Lead Analyst Kevin Fitchard said.

Improved coverage and higher data speeds

The mobile analytics firm noted the increase in Smart LTE speeds starting September last year.

“After September (2017), Smart’s speeds really began to take off,” Fitchard said, adding that OpenSignal’s data showed that this can be attributed to Smart beginning to close the once huge gap between itself and its competitor in 4G/LTE availability, and Smart’s LTE speeds beginning to increase at a faster rate.

“These OpenSignal test results show that our sustained investments in upgrading our network are paying off and enabling us to deliver world-class mobile data service to more customers in more areas of  the country,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT and Smart Senior Vice President for Network Planning and Engineering.

“As we continue to deploy LTE, LTE-Advanced and carrier aggregation technology to more areas like Batanes, Baguio, Puerto Princesa, Quezon City and Sarangani, we are on track to meet our commitment to the National Telecommunications Commission to achieve 90% municipality coverage for 3G and 4G mobile broadband by this year,” Tamayo added.

Building the lead in speed

OpenSignal reports over the past several months show that Smart has been building up its lead in LTE data speeds.

In the State of Mobile Network – Philippines report released by OpenSignal in March 2018, data showed Smart strengthening its lead in LTE download speeds nationwide and dominating in all major regions, noting that Smart’s nationwide LTE speeds were at 12.5 Mbps, compared to the competition’s 7.7 Mbps. Between the March 2017 and March 2018 OpenSignal reports, Smart’s 4G/LTE availability also increased from 40% to 60%.

The report states, “With tested speeds of 12.5 Mbps, Smart won the OpenSignal award for 4G download speeds, making it the third time it has done so. The operator is pulling away from its sole competitor in this category too. We found Smart’s 4G speeds increased by 2 Mbps in the last six months while [the competitor’s] speeds remained steady at just over 7 Mbps.”

“Right after our last Philippines report was published, the separation between Smart and [its competitor] in overall speed suddenly started getting wider. Our results show Smart’s 4G speeds began growing much faster and its 4G availability continued to tick upwards, while [its competitor’s] remained relatively static,” Fitchard said.

Tamayo said this was due to the stepped up deployment of LTE and LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) facilities in Smart’s mobile network.  In the first three months of 2018, Smart installed over 1,300 more LTE base stations across the country. These base stations use various radio frequency bands, specifically the 700 MHz band for better coverage and indoor penetration, and the 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands for additional capacity.

The installation of multiple LTE base stations in existing cell sites has paved the way for the activation not only of LTE but also LTE-A which can deliver significantly faster mobile data services to customers through carrier aggregation.  This feature of LTE-A boosts mobile data speeds by combining the capacity of two up to five frequency bands, Tamayo said.

“On mobile, as shown by the experience of other countries, the key to achieving world-class data speeds is to activate both LTE and LTE-Advanced facilities in our mobile network.  Of course, this network roll out must be accompanied by the adoption of more LTE and LTE-Advanced-capable mobile phones and devices,” Tamayo added.

Improved experience, businesses

In areas like Marikina and Quezon City, where Smart has already activated carrier aggregation combining up to 5 frequency bands, internal tests showed customers enjoying download speeds ranging from 30 Mbps to 200 Mbps, depending on density of traffic and handset capability, whereas small business owners and retailers have also reported an increase in earnings, boosted by improved mobile internet experience in their area, Tamayo said.

Parent company PLDT has committed historic levels of resources to support network transformation. Capital expenditures is expected to reach P58 billion this year, including allocations for the aggressive rollout of its fiber broadband service, which also supports the stepped-up deployment of the mobile network by providing high-capacity links for cellular base stations, Tamayo said.  

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