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Smart drives mobile data traffic with stepped-up LTE-A, carrier aggregation roll-out

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PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc (Smart)’s 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% of Smart’s sites nationwide have already been upgraded to LTE, while 62% of Smart’s LTE sites across the country are already LTE-A capable. Amid these network upgrade efforts, mobile data traffic grew by 79% in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017, higher than the industry year-on-year growth of 54% 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.

Fastest network

As a result of this ramped-up rollout, Smart continues 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%, compared to competition’s 67.79%.

“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%,” 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 LTE now leads in the Visayas at 65.95% (vs 62.29%) and is further closing the gap in Metro Manila at 78.55% (vs 79.73%).

Improving lives

“Technology and connectivity have a direct impact on people’s lives. With this accelerated rollout of LTE, LTE-A and carrier aggregation across the country, we are not just improving speeds. We are also connecting families, empowering entrepreneurs and small businesses, and boosting local governments,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT and Smart senior vice president for network planning and engineering.

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% 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.

“Aside from upgrading our network, we are working with device manufacturers to help make more LTE and LTE-A-capable devices available to our customers,” said Tamayo, adding that just like in other countries, the network roll-out must be accompanied by the adoption of LTE and LTE-A-capable mobile phones and devices so that more people can enjoy the improved service.

Other smartphones available with Smart include the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, Huawei P20 series, Huawei Mate 10, Samsung Galaxy J2 Pro, and Oppo F5, to name a few.

NTC commitment

As a result of integrated network transformation efforts, PLDT and Smart were also recently cited for being the country’s fastest fixed and mobile networks for Q1-Q2 2018, respectively, by Ookla®, the global leader in internet testing and analysis.

Smart is on track to fulfilling its commitment to the National Telecommunications Commission to cover 90% 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.

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