El Nido resident and hostel owner Carmela Lucena still remembers how hard it was to run a tourist business on the highly-valued tourist island destination in Palawan province.
“Good mobile signals and fast internet connections were difficult to find,” said Lucena, general manager of Island Hop Nido Hostel. “Bookings that required internet were almost impossible to complete unless we pass on the task to someone in Puerto Princesa,” she added.
Today, visitors to El Nido and other areas across Southern Luzon can now enjoy high-speed mobile data PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications (Smart) accelerates the roll out of Long Term Evolution (LTE) and LTE-A in the region.
Smart has also fired up LTE sites in Busuanga, Roxas, San Vicente and Taytay, and is set to roll-out LTE sites in Brooke’s Point and Coron as well. Smart has already rolled out LTE in Puerto Princesa City, where initial internal tests in areas including the Puerto Princesa airport and Honda Bay showed LTE download speeds of between 12 to 60 Mbps.
Amid the ramped-up rollout across Southern Luzon and Metro Manila, close to 80% of Smart’s sites in the region are now on LTE, and of this, 76% are now on LTE-A.
Aside from Palawan, Smart LTE can now be experienced in areas in other provinces, like Infanta in Quezon, Cavinti in Laguna, Baao and Bato in Camarines Sur, Lobo in Batangas, and Oas in Albay, to name a few.
Tess Casil, a retailer in Daraga, Albay, was among those who felt the difference. “Before, we were able to experience only H+ connections. Now, we’re on 4G-LTE,” she said, adding that her customers are now using more data packages. “They load up because they want to go on Facebook and upload quickly, so that their friends and family can stay updated,” she added.
Alona Vargas, on the other hand, uses mobile data to talk with her sister-in-law and friends who are in Manila and Puerto Princesa. She said her sari-sari store In El Nido has also flourished because tourists, workers and students now buy data packages more often.
“Mobile data is important, especially for foreigners,” said Vargas, whose store is located near the El Nido municipal hall. “Students also avail themselves of data promos for their school work,” she added.
Fiber in El Nido
Earlier, PLDT rolled out fiber-powered broadband services for tourist and other business establishments in El Nido after expanding its fiber facilities in the area.
As a result, things are much better for Lucena and her hostel guests.
“Thankfully, PLDT now offers fiber connection to businesses in El Nido. I’ve recently booked domestic and international airline tickets for my guests without hassle. Our hostel guests now also enjoy free Wi-Fi that they frequently use to communicate with their families and friends back home. It is a great help for all of us here since internet is vital for our main source of income—tourism,” she said.
Underpinning PLDT and Smart’s fixed and mobile network roll-out was the expansion of PLDT’s fiber optic transmission and distribution network. PLDT’s fiber footprint, now the most extensive in the country at 204,000 kilometers, also supports Smart’s mobile network by providing high-capacity fiber connections for LTE base stations.
“Better connectivity through both fixed and mobile networks in tourist-popular areas like El Nido does not only give the tourism industry a much-needed boost. It also improves the quality of life of residents, empowers local businesses and entrepreneurs operating in the area, and enables local governments to deliver timely services to their constituents,” said Mario G. Tamayo, senior vice president for Network Planning and Engineering for PLDT and Smart.
In Puerto Princesa, for example, network upgrades have also boosted revenues of travel-related businesses as they take advantage of social media to promote their services and to communicate with foreign tourists. Smart partner retailers in the city have likewise seen their incomes triple as their customers buy load more frequently to be able to watch videos on YouTube, play online games or update their Facebook accounts.
“With LTE now in place in El Nido, we are encouraging our customers to upgrade to an LTE-capable smartphone and an LTE SIM to be able to fully enjoy the benefits of our improved network,” said Gia C. Palafox, VP and Head, Customer Development for NCR and Palawan.
Smart Prepaid and Smart Postpaid customers can check if their SIMs are LTE-ready by texting SIMCHECK to 5832 for free, while smartphones available with Smart include the Huawei P20 series, Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+, Huawei Mate 10, Samsung Galaxy J2 Pro, and Oppo F5, among others.
“Smart, TNT and Sun customers can also easily upgrade to an LTE SIM without changing their existing number by going to a nearby Smart Store or through an LTE-Ready Self-Service Upgrade SIM, which is available for P10 at Smart loading partners nationwide, with free 1GB data valid for three days upon upgrading,” she added.
With this rollout, Smart is on track to fulfill its commitment to the National Telecommunications Commission to provide high-speed wireless data services in over 90% of the country’s cities and municipalities by the end of 2018.
Parent company PLDT has committed historic levels of resources to support network transformation, with capital expenditures expected to reach P58 billion this year.