PLDT expands fiber network in first 9 months to 395,000 kilometers

Network capacity to carry 55 terabits per second, to increase by another 37 terabits per second

The country’s largest and only integrated telco PLDT announced that its fiber infrastructure has reached 395,000 kilometers as of end of September 2020 – the most extensive and advanced digital transport network in the country, supporting all the internet delivery platforms such as fiber fixed broadband, mobile data services via 4G and increasingly 5G, and carrier-grade WiFi.

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PH notches ‘impressive improvements’ in 4G availability, download speeds: Opensignal

Mobile network experience in the Philippines has had “impressive improvements” since 2017 as Filipinos spent more time on 4G/LTE, according to the latest analysis by independent mobile analytics firm Opensignal.

The analysis, which is available on Opensignal’s website, found that between the fourth quarter of 2017 and the second quarter of 2020, 4G Availability in the Philippines increased by nearly 20 percentage points.

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Smart network expansion keeps data services resilient amid COVID-19

Opensignal: 4G Video Experience in PH “resilient” during the pandemic lockdown

Quarantined in a barangay isolation center in Brgy Luz, a COVID-19 hotspot in Cebu City, educator Roy Genares turned to the Internet to lift the morale of his fellow COVID-positive patients.

A principal in a mountain school in Cebu City, Genares hosted nightly movie viewings for the adults and senior citizens and watched LearnSmart e-storytelling sessions with the kids.

“It was challenging for us to hold these activities, but with the help of the internet and social media, we were able to pull it off,” he said.

LearnSmart e-storytelling sessions became nightly movie viewing.

As more Filipinos turn to video and other data services amid the COVID-19 crisis, PLDT and its wireless unit Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) continue to expand and upgrade their fixed and wireless networks across the country, despite challenges presented by the imposition of community quarantine.

We are regaining the momentum of our sustained network roll out efforts over the past five years which have placed us in a strong position to cope with the surge demand for data services during the COVID pandemic.

Alfredo S. Panlilio, PLDT Chief Revenue Officer and Smart President and Chief Executive Officer

Network roll out

“In the first month after the lockdown was implemented, our network teams faced movement restrictions and we also had to take safety precautions to protect the health of our employees and our customers,” said Alfredo S. Panlilio, PLDT Chief Revenue Officer and Smart President and Chief Executive Officer.

“But we have since made adjustments and have stepped up our network roll out and maintenance activities. We are regaining the momentum of our sustained network roll out efforts over the past five years which have placed us in a strong position to cope with the surge demand for data services during the COVID pandemic,” Panlilio said.

“By May 2020, we were almost back to pre-ECQ levels. We did this by carefully deploying our people in the field to do physical installations and upgrades and combining this with systems upgrades done remotely,” said Mario G. Tamayo, Senior Vice President for Network Planning and Engineering for PLDT and Smart.

Educator Roy Genares held nightly viewing of Smart’s e-storytelling sessions at their isolation center in Barangay Luz in Cebu City.
Educator Roy Genares held nightly viewing of Smart’s e-storytelling sessions at their isolation center in Barangay Luz in Cebu City.

Resilient networks

The beneficial impact of these continuing expansion efforts have been confirmed by independent third-party firms like Opensignal, which published a recent analysis about the resilience of mobile networks in the Philippines amid the Covid-19 emergency.

“In the Philippines, video has been a big driver of data consumption, and with measures such as the General community quarantine (GCQ) and Enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed in response to Covid-19, Filipinos are consuming videos on Youtube, Netflix and other online streaming services more than ever, putting the mobile networks under pressure,” Opensignal’s Hardik Khatri wrote.

“As operators in the Philippines reported a dramatic surge in data consumption, we found that the quality of the video streaming experience over 4G connections was resilient,” Opensignal said.

The study, which covered the period Sept. 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020, showed that while 4G Video Experience in March declined by 7.2% in urban areas and 14.7% in rural areas, “the typical 4G Video Experience in the Philippines ranges from Fair to Good, which suggests that the mobile operators have been able to cope well during these extraordinary times.”

Opensignal examined the mobile experience in urban and rural areas in the National Capital Region, North and Central Luzon, South Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

4G Video Experience

Between September 2019 and February 2020, Opensignal noted that 4G Video Experience had improved in a majority of the regions, with rural users in Mindanao seeing the biggest improvement (23.3%) and urban users seeing the highest improvement of 9.1% in the NCR.

In March, when the government imposed restrictions due to COVID-19, Opensignal observed a decline in 4G Video Experience across all regions. “However, urban areas saw much smaller changes than rural regions indicating greater resilience,” Opensignal said.

“Despite the downturn described above, users in the Philippines continue to enjoy a Good 4G Video Experience (55-65 on a 100 point scale) in the NCR, and a Fair 4G Video Experience (40-55) in the remaining regions regardless of whether they are based in urban or rural areas,” Opensignal noted.

STORYTELLING. PLDT-Smart Public Affairs Group Head Ramon Isberto in one of the LearnSmart e-storytelling sessions.
STORYTELLING. PLDT-Smart Public Affairs Group Head Ramon Isberto in one of the LearnSmart e-storytelling sessions.

Increased appetite for video

To better support Filipinos’ increasing appetite for video, social media, gaming and other online activities, PLDT and Smart have continued to expand and upgrade their fixed and wireless networks across the country.

As of end-March, Smart increased the number of 4G/LTE base stations to 26,000, up 6% from end-2019 and 60% more than end-2018. PLDT’s fiber infrastructure, which supports Smart’s network by providing high-capacity links to LTE base stations, is now at 338,500 kilometers nationwide, 5% more than end-2019 and up nearly 40% from end-2018.

In April, Smart further increased the capacity of its LTE network by reallocating its assigned 1800 Mhz frequency from 2G to 4G/LTE. As a result, 3,785 2G base stations of Smart have also been providing additional capacity for its LTE network.

Independent data referenced with consent from Opensignal, Mobile networks in the Philippines are more resilient in urban areas than in rural during the crisis, May 2020.

Smart increases LTE capacity nationwide

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.

Continue reading “Smart increases LTE capacity nationwide”

Smart leads in Opensignal’s independent analysis of PH mobile experience

PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) delivers the best video experience across the Philippines and in 18 regions and provinces, based on the latest independent report from mobile analytics company Opensignal.

The Philippines Mobile Network Experience Report September 2019, which covered the period May 1 to July 29, 2019 and independently analyzed over 533 million measurements from over 190,000 devices, found that Smart won in four categories—Video Experience, Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience and Latency Experience—and scored a draw in 4G Availability.

Smart’s Video Experience score was 47.6, well ahead of competition’s score of 30.4.

Smart won 4 awards in the latest Opensignal report. PLDT chairman and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan received the awards from Opensignal executives Andy Burns and Rob Lerner. Also present during the ceremonies were Smart President Al S. Panlilio and PLDT-Smart chief technology and information advisor Joachim Horn.

“Smart’s Video Experience score of 47.6 out of 100 places it comfortably in our Fair ranking bracket (40-55), which means its users may be able to watch videos with reasonable load times and minimal stalling at low resolutions,” Peter Boyland, Opensignal senior analyst, wrote. “Globe’s score of 30.4, however, is well into Poor ranking (0-40) territory, meaning its users will struggle to get anything close to an acceptable Video Experience, even at the lowest resolutions.”

In terms of overall Download Speed Experience, which factors in both 3G and 4G download speeds along with the availability of each technology, Smart posted 9.4 Mbps, ahead of Globe’s 6.5 Mbps. In terms of 4G Download Speed alone, Smart scored 12.7 Mbps, compared to the competition’s 8.3 Mbps.

In terms of overall Upload Speed Experience, Smart posted 3.3 Mbps, ahead of the competition’s 1.7 Mbps.

In terms of Latency Experience, which is measured in milliseconds and refers to the delay users experience as data makes a round trip through the network, Smart also scored better at 61.9ms, compared to competition’s 64.2ms. When measuring Latency Experience, a lower number is better.

Regional analysis

The latest Opensignal report also includes data from 19 regions and provinces across the Philippines – Aklan, Batangas, Benguet, Bulacan, Cavite, Cebu, Davao del Sur, Iloilo, Laguna, Metro Manila, Misamis Oriental, Negros Occidental, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Quezon, Rizal, South Cotabato and Tarlac.

Smart dominated Video Experience in 18 provinces, leading by as much as 29.4 points and 21.4 points in Nueva Ecija and Metro Manila, respectively.

In terms of Download Speed Experience, Smart was also ahead in Metro Manila, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Batangas, Quezon, Cebu, Iloilo, Misamis Oriental and South Cotabato, while in terms of Upload Speed Experience, Smart also led in 18 provinces.

In terms of Latency Experience, both operators scored a draw in most areas, with Smart leading in Metro Manila and Quezon province.

“These results are a testament to Smart’s commitment to continuously improve and expand our network across the country in order to support our customers’ growing appetite for mobile data,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT-Smart senior vice president for Network Planning and Engineering.

Smart won in 4 categories – Video Experience, Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience and Latency Experience.

Smart won in 4 categories – Video Experience, Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience and Latency Experience.

Network transformation

Amid Smart’s Video Every Day and Giga Gaming offers, increasing data usage for video and games, alongside robust subscriber growth and increasing adoption of LTE SIMs and smartphones, have boosted PLDT’s consumer wireless business revenues for the first half of 2019, which grew 20% year-on-year to P34.4 billion.

Powering these services is PLDT and Smart’s sustained fixed and mobile network roll out and modernization. PLDT’s total fiber infrastructure spanning over 283,000 kilometers at the end of June also supports Smart’s mobile network by providing high-capacity links to its more than 19,000 LTE base stations.

PLDT has set aside a historic-high capital expenditure program in 2019 amounting to P78.4 billion, to further enhance the reach and capacity of its fiber-powered fixed line broadband network and LTE and 3G mobile networks, as well as modernize its IT support systems.

Video, mobile games boost Smart’s data usage and revenues

PLDT Inc.’s resurgent mobile business posted record revenue growth in the first quarter of 2019, riding on the growing appetite of its customers for online video and mobile games.

Service revenues of its individual wireless business, which includes the consumer sales of its Smart, Sun and TNT mobile brands, jumped 18% year-on-year to P16.9 billion, net of interconnection costs. The surge in revenues was driven by a robust increase in data and broadband revenues which accounted for 65% of the total.

PLDT’s wireless brands also added 3.4 million customers in the first quarter of 2019, adding to a subscriber base that is increasingly becoming more active in using data. About two-thirds of these subscribers are smartphone owners, of whom about 70% are data users. Mobile data traffic rose by 127% year-on-year to 304 petabytes.

Video, mobile gaming

These data-savvy customers are watching more and more video on their smartphones. With the introduction of the Video Every Day data packages late last year, more customers have been accessing various video services like YouTube, NBA, iWant and iFlix.

The monthly users of YouTube, already boosted by last year’s Free YouTube promo, further increased by 35% in the first quarter. Viewers of other popular video apps also increased sharply: users of the NBA video service nearly doubled; those of iWant soared 153%; and iflix, 170%.

Mobile gaming has contributed to the continuing increase in data usage, following PLDT and Smart’s initiatives to organize their official professional eSports team, “Omega”. They also sponsored the professional league in the Philippines of the popular mobile game Mobile Legends.

The upshot: the number of monthly unique users of Mobile Legends increased by 5x from June 2018 to end-March 2019.

Mobile gaming Smart, PLDT network

PLDT network upgrades

To support Filipinos’ increasing appetite for data, PLDT and Smart are continuously expanding and modernizing their fixed and mobile networks, backed by a historic-high capital expenditure of P78.4 billion this year. The capex investments are to further expand coverage and to increase capacity to handle the exponential growth in data traffic. The ultimate aim is to deliver the best data customer experience.

The growth of mobile video viewing among Smart subscribers, for example, has been supported by the ability of its cellular network to deliver what internet analytics firm OpenSignal called, in its latest country analysis, “the better video experience.” Other third-party organizations like Ookla, Tutela and P3 have also recognized the network superiority of the PLDT group network.

More LTE base stations

Smart has added about 1,700 LTE base stations in the first quarter, raising the total to about 18,000. Smart is also activating carrier aggregation across its sites, enabling the network to deliver even faster mobile internet services by combining the capacity of two or more frequency bands. Smart has likewise also increased its 3G base station count to about 12,100.

Meanwhile, PLDT has further expanded its total fiber optic cable network footprint to 259,000 kilometers. PLDT’s fiber-powered fixed line broadband network has now passed 6.7 million homes as of end-March, while total number of fiber ports available has reached 2.96 million, of which 1.2 million are available for new customers.

PLDT’s fiber network also supports Smart’s mobile network by providing high-capacity links to cellular base stations.

PLDT has also partnered with global technology leader Cisco to help transform its fiber transport network in to a fully automated, software-defined 5G-ready IP transport network over the next three years.

“This transport transformation program is a crucial part of our ambition to strengthen the network leadership that PLDT and Smart nave won through consistent efforts over the past three years,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT-Smart senior vice president for network planning and engineering. (Press Release)

Better video experience on Smart LTE: Opensignal

Customers of PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) experience faster video loading times and fewer video stalling occurrences while on Smart’s LTE network, according to the latest analysis by Opensignal.

The analysis, which is available on Opensignal’s website and covered the period Nov. 1, 2018 to Jan. 29, 2019, showed that Smart scored a ‘good’ video experience score of 56.6 points on Opensignal’s 4G Video Experience scale, well ahead of competition’s ‘poor’ score of 34.9 points out of 100. This score includes video loading time and video stalling metrics.

In terms of video load times, Smart customers experienced faster load times at 5 seconds, compared to competition’s 8.3 seconds. Opensignal’s 4G Video Load Time represents the average period of time mobile users have to wait for a streamed video to begin playing over an LTE connection.

Meanwhile, 4G Video Stalling Occurrence measures the proportion of users that experience an interruption in playback after a video begins streaming.

“Again, we observed a big gap between the two operators with 15.7% of Smart’s users and 40.3% of Globe’s experiencing stalling when streaming video to their smartphones,” Opensignal’s Francesco Rizzato wrote.

OpenSignal Faster load times Smart
FASTER LOAD TIMES. In terms of video load times, Smart customers experienced faster load times at 5 seconds, compared to competition’s 8.3 seconds.

 

“Many network operators that achieved Very Good Video Experience scores have just one in every ten users experiencing interruptions when playing video on an LTE connection. Having four out of ten users seeing their screen freeze during playback is definitely one of the reasons why Globe achieved a Poor score,” Rizzato added.

“Now that 4G access in the Philippines is becoming more and more of a commodity, all operators will need to focus on improving their subscribers’ experience in other areas beyond LTE reach. Our analysis shows that Smart has been doing its legwork, but it also raises the question of whether we will need to wait for 5G to see any improvement in Globe’s network experience,” Rizzato said.

Best network for video

These results come amid studies that show Filipinos are among the world’s most avid online video viewers. In 2018, online video viewing on Smart’s LTE network surged, leading to an over 100% increase in mobile data usage in 2018, and a 62-percent jump in mobile data revenues year-on-year.

This award is the latest in Smart’s string of network superiority citations from several independent third-party firms, including Ookla, Tutela, and global benchmarking leader P3 communications GmbH

“These awards are a testament to our continuous network upgrades across the country,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT-Smart senior vice president for Network Planning and Engineering.

“We are continuously expanding and improving our network to provide the best mobile data experience to our customers—whether they use it for streaming online video, for keeping in touch with their loved ones, or for accessing other online services, such as email, mobile banking and e-commerce,” he added.

Underpinning this network performance is PLDT’s expansive fiber network, which now spans over 244,000 kilometers and also supports Smart’s mobile network by providing high-capacity links to cellular base stations. To push further the already significant network advantage of PLDT and Smart, and to support an active campaign for more revenues, PLDT and Smart are undertaking yet another massive capital expenditures program for 2019 by allocating up to P78.4 billion budget this year. (Press Release)