Coverage and Capacity: Smart Debuts LTE Service in Batanes


Smart caps off Northern Luzon LTE expansion with historic launch; LTE connections in PH’s northernmost province powered by ‘longest microwave hop’

PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) has fired up Long Term Evolution (LTE) in Batanes, bringing much improved mobile data experience to tourists and residents in the Philippines’ northernmost province.

“Smart is now the first operator to have LTE in the country’s northernmost province. This is part of Smart’s commitment to bring mobile internet to more than 90% of the country’s municipalities by the end of this year,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT and Smart Senior Vice President for Network Planning and Engineering.

“With Smart LTE now in Batanes, tourists and residents can now enjoy better mobile data experience that they can use to connect with loved ones across the country, as well as show the world sights and sounds from this picturesque province via social media,” he added.

Batanes, home to over 17,000 Filipinos, receives around 4,000 tourists a month and is included in the UNESCO Tentative List for Inscription in the World Heritage List. Made up of 29 barangays in six municipalities, the province is a mini-archipelago of 10 islands, including the main island Batan, the largest island Itbayat, and Sabtang island.

Longest microwave hop

“Covering Batanes with LTE was a major challenge. To connect this province, we had to use multiple microwave hops, including the longest single microwave hop in the country at 128 kilometers,” Tamayo said, adding that due to the province’s rugged and mountainous terrain, Smart deployed special heavy equipment to transport and install the cell sites. Getting to some relay stations also involved an eight-hour trek.

“This ramped-up roll-out of LTE and LTE-Advanced in Batanes and other areas is part of Smart’s commitment to deliver world-class internet service to more Filipinos, wherever they may be in the country,” said Tamayo. “We are happy to partner with Batanes local government officials in getting Smart LTE up and running in their hometown.”

LTE-A is available in Basco, the capital of Batanes, while the rest of the province is covered with LTE.

Present during the Smart LTE launch in the province were Batanes local government officials, led by Batanes Gov. Marilou Cayco, Basco Mayor Anastacia Viola, Mahatao Mayor Proceso Balasbas, Itbayat Mayor Raul De Sagon, Ivana Mayor Leonardo Hostallero, Uyugan Mayor Jonathan Enrique Nanud, and Sabtang Mayor Marcial Alavado, as well as officials from PLDT and Smart.

“In addition to this boost in tourism, improved connectivity also opens up opportunities for the people of Batanes, such as teachers looking to download additional educational materials for their students, or local businesses searching for tips on how to improve their own products and services,” Tamayo said.

“This gigabit microwave hop is set up using Ericsson’s commercially available MINI-LINK LH and boosts Smart’s LTE coverage in the Philippines, even in remote areas like the Batanes group of islands. At a hop length of 128 kilometers, this is the longest 1.6Gbps inter-island packet microwave hop deployed by Ericsson globally,” Martin Wiktorin, Ericsson Philippines Country Unit Head, explained.

MINI-LINK LH, Ericsson’s long-haul product in the MINI-LINK family, contains an integrated high capacity Ethernet switch and provides Native Ethernet and TDM supporting the evolution to all-IP. Ericsson’s trunk radio systems provide best in class spectrum efficiency and make the most out of available frequency spectrum.

Free YouTube

Smart, TNT and Sun customers in Batanes who sign up for load packages until July 15 can also get free access to one hour daily to YouTube, the world’s largest video sharing website, where they could watch news and entertainment video clips, among others. A better video streaming experience is now possible with LTE in the province.

Smart’s massive network investments over the past several years has enabled the mobile phone carrier to provide high-speed mobile data services via its expanded LTE and 3G networks throughout the country.

This year, Smart is accelerating the deployment of LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) and carrier aggregation technology to more areas. Carrier Aggregation (CA), a feature of LTE-A, enables the combination of two or more radio frequency bands in order to deliver bigger bandwidth and much faster data speeds, which are crucial in providing the best video streaming experience to mobile phone users.

Smart has also rolled-out CA sites in other tourist destinations across the country, like Baguio, Sagada, Panglao, Dumaguete, Puerto Princesa, Daanbantayan and Dapitan, among others.

In Metro Manila and areas where there is a concentration of capable devices, Smart is also deploying 4CC, starting with Marikina and Quezon City, where customers with 4CC CA-capable devices like the Samsung Galaxy S8 have reported enjoying data download speeds of over 200 Mbps.

Smart’s accelerated deployment of LTE-Advanced follows the stepped up roll out of its LTE network. It is also raising the bar 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.

Parent company PLDT has committed historic levels of resources to support network transformation. Capital expenditures reached P40 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach P58 billion this year. This 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.