Race is on for Philippine telcos’ mobile LTE in 2013

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MANILA, Philippines — The country’s two largest telcos are prepping their network to go full-blast with LTE deployment next year, as the introduction of high-speed connectivity for smartphones, and not just data devices, commences at the tail-end of 2012.

Both Smart Communications and Globe Telecom said during their recent product launches that they will be ramping up the activation of LTE in their cell sites across the country, with a key focus on expanding outside of Metro Manila, where the high-speed Internet service is currently limited.

The topic of mobile LTE recently became a point of discussion as the two telcos launched Apple’s latest smartphone, the iPhone 5, but without the LTE feature enabled. Instead, Smart and Globe announced the availability of Android-powered smartphones that will be available — and will run–on their LTE networks.

Smart’s President and CEO Napoleon Nazareno told reporters during the company’s iPhone 5 launch that they intend to grow their LTE base to 1,000 cell sites by the first quarter of next year, up from just about 600 sites at the end of 2012.

“But the location would still depend on demand. We’re looking at focusing on key urban cities such as Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Pampanga,” Nazareno said.

Currently, Smart’s LTE service is available in 10 Metro Manila cities, which include Makati, Taguig, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Pasay, Muntinlupa, Manila, San Juan, Quezon City and Las Pinas.

Meanwhile, Globe’s Senior Advisor for Consumer Business Peter Bithos said their LTE network “is ready” in light of the telco’s recent network modernization initiative, which saw Globe overhauling its entire infrastructure to make it “future-ready.”

Bithos added that they are looking at expanding LTE coverage in Cebu and Davao, where their network upgrade has already been completed, aside from the availability of the service in Makati this year.

LTE pricing

The Globe executive added that they will not be differentiating their LTE price points, for example: when Apple finally decides to give the go-signal for LTE in the iPhone 5, since he said doing so would only “confuse the user.”

“We will not be differentiating LTE pricing from normal data plans, since that would create confusion among consumers,” said Gil Genio, head for international and business markets at the Ayala-led telco. “Mobile users don’t care which kind of network they’re on, so there’s no point in having different rates.”

Smart’s Postpaid Business Head Kathy Carag, meanwhile, said of their iPhone 5 LTE plans: “We will advice one LTE for iPhone [5] is ready.”

Currently, LTE services from both Smart and Globe are priced at a higher tier than mobile Internet plans that run on previous-generation 3G and HSPA networks, presumably due to LTE’s higher-bandwidth offering, which could theoretically shoot up to as much as 100 Mbps.

Smart’s Ramon Isberto said that the intensifying competition between the two major telcos will only “drive more affordable plans” for next-generation mobile Internet.

“We also see that medium-priced smartphones will start to enter the market next year, which will only drive demand for LTE,” Isberto added.

Touted as the next evolutionary step in mobile networks, LTE, also known as Long-Term Evolution, promises downlink speeds of up to 100 Mbps and a more efficient management of network traffic. Both telcos, however, cap their current LTE services at 42Mbps.

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