Smart steps up LTE-Advanced, carrier aggregation roll-out

Smart’s accelerated LTE-Advanced and carrier aggregation roll-out is expected to boost network speeds, coverage and capacity.

PLDT wireless arm Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) is accelerating the deployment of LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) and carrier aggregation technology to more areas this year to provide better mobile data experience to customers.

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 and 4CC combines four bands.

“The more widespread deployment of LTE-Advanced with carrier aggregation is the cutting edge of our broader effort to deliver world-class internet service to our customers,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT and Smart Senior Vice President for Network Planning and Engineering. “Our ramped-up rollout of LTE-A is boosting Smart mobile data speeds in more areas of the country.”

Smart has already fired up 3CC CA sites in cities across Metro Manila, as well as in major cities in other regions of the country.

These include cities like Baguio City in Benguet; Santa Rosa, Calamba and Biñan in Laguna; the cities of Iloilo, Bacolod, Tagbilaran and Ormoc in the Visayas; and the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Dipolog, and Zamboanga in Mindanao, to name a few.

“We plan to roll out more sites with carrier aggregation capability in more areas across the country this year. In Metro Manila, we are deploying 4CC starting with Marikina and Quezon City,” Tamayo added.

In Marikina City, for example, customers with 4CC CA-capable devices like the Samsung Galaxy S8 have reported enjoying data download speeds of over 200 Mbps. 4CC aggregation will be rolled out in more areas where there is a concentration of capable devices.

Smart’s accelerated deployment of LTE-Advanced is riding on the back of its stepped up roll out of its LTE network. In 2018, Smart is doubling the number of LTE base stations to about 17,700 and raising the number of LTE-equipped cell sites to more than 6,800 this year.

Smart is also upping the ante by deploying another LTE-A based technology called 4×4 Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO), which raises the radio frequency efficiency by using multiple antennas for sending and receiving data, Tamayo said.

“With a fast LTE network and the right devices, we are bringing a better network experience to our customers across the country, which they can use to watch movies on their smartphones, update their social media on the go, and stay in touch with their loved ones,” he added.

This comes as Smart launched its new data-packed postpaid plans called GigaX plans, which offer 10GB data allocation for video streaming on top of increased open data allocations and free LTE handsets.

“With these new data-packed plans and free handsets, we are helping our customers take full advantage of the improved Smart LTE and LTE-Advanced network that we are putting in place across the country,” said Eric R. Alberto, PLDT Group Chief Revenue Officer. “As their trusted digital partner, we are here to provide world-class connectivity to our customers who need to always be connected on-the-go, may it be for their increasingly mobile careers and businesses or for their entertainment needs.”

Under Giga Plan 2399, for example, customers get the following inclusions: Huawei Mate 10 handset, 10GB of data exclusive to video streaming, unli all-net texts, 60 minutes all-net calls, and 10GB of open access data (doubled from previous 5GB open access allocation). The Huawei Mate 10 is 3CC CA-capable.

Historic capex

As of end-2017, Smart has more than 8,700 LTE base stations and over 4,300 LTE cell sites. It has also increased its 3G base stations to over 9,800, and its 3G-equipped cell sites to about 7,500.

Base stations refer to the cellular radio equipment that run on specific frequencies, such as 700 MHz, 1800 MHz or 2100 MHz, while cell sites are the towers or structures that house several of these base stations.

For this fast-tracked LTE and 3G roll-out, Smart is heavily using the radio frequencies acquired from San Miguel Corporation, with over 2,000 base stations using these frequencies as of end-2017. This figure is expected to increase to nearly 9,000 base stations by end-2018. These frequencies are currently serving an estimated 24 million Smart, Sun, and TNT customers all over the country.

Parent company PLDT has committed historic levels of resources to support network transformation. Capital expenditures reached P40 billion in 2017, of which about 67% was allotted for the mobile network.

For 2018, PLDT capex is expected to reach P58 billion, which includes allocations for the aggressive roll-out 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.

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