The commercial launch of 5G in the Philippines will bring not only super-fast internet for mobile phone users but will also introduce a new generation of digital services for both individual consumers and enterprise customers, according to officials of PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications.
“5G is a major milestone in the development of mobile phone services and digital technologies. It is a platform that enables new technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, cloud computing and other digital services, that when combined, will not only enhance existing services, but also make possible a new generation of wireless services,” said Ramon R. Isberto, PLDT-Smart Public Affairs Head and First Vice President, in an interview with Cito Beltran’s Agenda on One News.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Technology not only helps in the preservation of heritage, it can also do wonders in reinventing how we experience it.
The Cebu Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church (CACCHC) in partnership with start-up tech company InnoPub Media, and Smart Communications Inc. (Smart), have started working on a mobile application that would facilitate an interactive digital exhibit featuring heritage churches in Cebu.
“The digital exhibit and the mobile app will help ignite the interest from a wider audience. This is another way to pass on and communicate the meaning and significance of our rich heritage especially to the younger generation,” said Rev. Fr. Brian Brigoli, CACCHC chairman.
Spending time together while listening to entertaining and educational stories is becoming a nightly habit for parents and children following the eStorytelling Sessions of Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart).
Launched in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) and The Storytelling Project, and aired live every 8:30pm on the Smart Communities Facebook page, this is Smart’s way of bringing the magic of stories into people’s home through technology.
Shortly after expanding to 24-hour daily operations, the Cebu City Public Library and Information Center rolled out a carrier-grade wifi service for users in partnership with Smart Communications, Inc.
Students, researchers, and other library patrons get their first 30 minutes of Smart Wifi access for free. They can extend access by buying credits via cellphone load.
A wifi connection is particularly useful for studying and research and would be a big help to library goers, said Ramon Isberto, concurrent Public Affairs Head of leading telecoms and digital services provider PLDT and wireless subsidiary Smart.
“When you turn a library into a community hub, you make it more powerful and influential,” he added, citing that users get access not only to books housed there but to a global library through the Internet.
Jimmy Chua, AVP and Head CRM of PLDT SME Nation, said high-speed Internet is essential for going digital and that the provision of Smart Wifi at the library was only the beginning of the company’s collaboration with Cebu City.
Isberto and Chua attended the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to formalize the provision of up to 30 minutes of free wifi at the city library last April 5, 2018.
Councilor Margot Osmeña said the City Government was more than willing to transform the Cebu City Public Library and Information Center into a daily 24-hour operation when student Mitch Roldan requested it.
“Whatever the City can do, we will do for you,” Osmeña, who represented the City Government at the signing, added.
Cebu City study centers
Cebu City plans to put up 24-hour study centers in selected barangays so students don’t need to go far to study. Osmeña said she hopes to get the support of PLDT and Smart for the other areas as well.
Aside from the city library, Smart Wifi is also available for students at Cebu Institute of Technology, Cebu Technological University, University of Cebu Banilad in Cebu City, and in more school across Cebu Province.
Cebu City Hall was the first establishment in Cebu that offered public Smart Wifi. Other areas with Smart Wifi are the Cebu Provincial Capitol, Larsian Food Center, Cebu North and South Bus Terminals, Cebu Port Terminals 1 and 3, Cebu Port Terminals 1 and 3, and the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.
“Maging Laging Handa,” a series of disaster-readiness videos developed by Smart Communications (Smart), has been distributed to public elementary schools nationwide in support of the Department of Education’s (DepEd) initiative to integrate Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in the education curriculum.
Developed in partnership with PAGASA, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the video series was launched recently at the disaster risk reduction and resilience in education forum of DepEd which was attended by the disaster coordinators from all regions. The videos, which promote Smart’s advocacy for a safer Philippines, are especially designed for children who are most vulnerable during disasters.
Localized content, verified by experts
“The Maging Laging Handa videos of Smart are very valuable addition to our DRR curriculum for elementary students. In addition to being a fun educational material which improves memory retention, the content is localized and verified by experts,” said Ms. Ronilda Co, Director IV of the DepEd Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Service. “I’m sure our students will enjoy watching the videos while learning at the same time,” Co added.
The video materials cover precautionary measures and safety tips for various calamities such as typhoons, floods, tsunamis, storm surges, earthquakes, and landslides. The videos simplify disaster-related concepts like the typhoon signals, rainfall warning signals, and the differences between a storm surge and a tsunami.
A teacher’s guide as to how these videos can be integrated in the disaster risk reduction (DRR) curriculum was also unveiled during the forum.
Extend awareness to families
“The good thing about starting disaster preparedness with children is that these children are able to extend awareness to their families. And when families are aware, it’s easier to get them to participate in the preparedness efforts in their barangay, municipality or provinces,” said Smart Public Affairs Group Head Ramon Isberto. “This is one way to mobilize communities and really start that culture of preparedness among Filipinos,” Isberto added.
Smart as an organization has embraced preparedness, and has been aggressively promoting the culture of preparedness among its partner organizations under its #SafePH program.
The “Maging Laging Handa” videos feature television personality, Tonipet Gabba, as well as three puppets namely Inay Lena, a mother hen; Brownie, a dog; and Kali, a carabao. The videos also include all-original Tagalog songs aimed at making the learning journey richer and more exciting.
The videos, which can be viewed at www.smart.com.ph/SafePH, will now form part of Smart’s regular disaster preparedness caravans in various parts of the country to help strengthen disaster management capacities of local government units and their constituents.
To aid in disaster communications and response, Smart has also developed mobile apps and technology solutions such as the Batingaw and Project Noah apps, and the Smart Infocast. The telco has also been consistent in providing immediate libreng tawag services to areas affected by disasters using its satellite services. (Press Release)