Fifth generation (5G) mobile networks are making significant advances in the Philippines, according to the global leader in network intelligence and connectivity insights provider, Ookla.
Most Philippine operators, according to a report by Ookla, launched 5G mobile networks in 2020 shortly after Thai operators did.
Smart, one of the major Philippine telecommunications service providers, launched 5G technology in June 2019 for fixed wireless units and launched the same for mobile subscribers in February 2020 in Metro Manila.
Globe, another major service provider in the Philippines launched 5G in July 2020, originally targeting subscribers in Metro Manila who had 5G-capable devices.
Both operators used spectrum in the 3,500 megahertz band, which is considered as the “sweet spot” in terms of 5G network capacity and coverage.
Ookla data showed that Smart recorded a median download speed of 200.43 mbps and 19.67 mbps upload speed in the first quarter of 2022. These were way ahead of Globe which registered median download speeds of 121.29 mbps and upload speeds of 9.93 mbps.
Availability of 5G nationwide, Ookla said, nearly doubled in just one year—from 9.4 percent coverage in the first quarter of 2021 to 18.1 percent in the first quarter of 2022.
“Part of this is related to the easing of right-of-way (ROW) rules,” said Ookla.
New ROW rules, enforced by the Department of Public Works and Highways in March 2021, lifted the ban on construction of critical infrastructure, particularly cell sites, along national roads.
Another reason for improvements in both 4G and 5G developments was the active involvement of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in allowing more telcos to enter the playing field.
“A third player was introduced to the market to add competition, improve network performance and reduce prices in the market,” said Ookla in its report.
The way was paved for the entry of the third player by the NTC and Department of Information and Communications Technology which declared Dito (then Mislatel) as the new major telco player.
According to Ookla, the Philippines was not the only country to benefit from ROW reforms. India made the same move in October 2021, or eight months after the Philippines did.
In the Philippines, Smart reached 25.5 percent 5G coverage in the first quarter of 2022 Globe reached 15.3 percent coverage. Ookla attributed this to “spectrum deployment strategies” of each company.
Smart had 1.6 million connected 5G devices to its network in the first quarter of 2022, or more than triple its level—376,000—in the first quarter of 2021. Globe, by end of March 2022, had more than 2 million devices connected to 5G.
Ookla noted that plans of both telcos to further invest in 5G bodes well for the spread of the technology, which delivers faster connection to the internet.
Smart is investing up to P85 billion in 5G rollout nationwide which started in December 2021. Smart’s mobile data traffic grew 30 percent year-on-year to 1,010 petabytes while the number of 5G base stations rose to 7,300 in February 2022 from just 5,000 in 2020, corresponding to a 5G population of 66 percent.
Globe added 390 sites in just the first three months of 2022, extending 5G network reach to 95 percent of the National Capital Region and 85 percent of key cities in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Globe spent at least P92.8 billion to build 2,000 outdoor 5G sites and in-building solutions, 1,407 new cell sites and 1.4 million fiber lines.
Dito, the third Philippine telco, has partnered with hardware supplier Nokia to deploy 5G services in Mindanao in May 2021. In March 2022, this telco rolled out 5G home wi-fi services with 145 Metro Manila villages as pilot areas.
Villages in the cities of Manila, Caloocan and Quezon would be the first to benefit from 500 mbps of download speeds. Tests involving 5G in Caloocan showed download speeds of 512.66 mbps in the first quarter of this year.