PLDT and Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) will be the first local telcos to employ space-based mobile broadband communications to link more Filipinos nationwide.
Smart’s mobile customers in far-flung areas would be able to enjoy high-speed internet using ordinary smartphones via low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites –a first in the Philippines.
Smart will use the pioneering technology of US-based AST SpaceMobile, Inc., builder of “the first space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones.”
The telco signed a memorandum of understanding with AST SpaceMobile recently.
The latter has forged agreements with mobile network operators which cover 1.4 billion mobile subscribers globally.
Specifically, its MOU with Smart would extend its coverage to over 70 million Smart subscribers in the country, especially those in hard to reach rural areas.
While PLDT and Smart’s integrated fixed and wireless networks have nationwide reach, given the nation’s terrain and geography, they want an alternative solution to complement their continuing 4G and 5G network rollout.
It is a challenge to rollout in a disaster-prone archipelago with varying terrain of jungles, plains, mountains, and islands.
Having “cell sites in the sky” will be far easier.
“This innovative space-based cellular broadband communication connects directly to our cellphones; no special device is needed,” explained Mario G. Tamayo, Head of Technology at PLDT and Smart.
“As a supplement to our mobile coverage, this can fill the gap in providing our services to the deepest rural and remote areas in the country, so our customers can remain connected,” he added.
Once launched, the service is expected to cover hard-to-reach areas, enabling online learning for students, e-commerce and online banking for indigenous peoples in the mountains and farmers in rural areas, and cater to Filipinos out at sea.
This satellite technology can also help in disaster preparedness and resiliency efforts by providing an alternative network in times of calamities, which can impact cell sites on the ground.
In this latest innovation, Low-Earth Orbit satellites of AST SpaceMobile will be explored to deliver 4G and 5G signal to mobile devices of Smart customers.
“Compared to GEO satellites, LEO satellites are significantly closer to earth at around 700 kms, allowing them to deliver higher bandwidth with lower latency and communicate with regular smartphones, ” noted Arvin L. Siena, Head of Technology Strategy and Transformation Office at PLDT and Smart.
“As a nation, some of our countrymen live off the sea, where signal is not available. These include fisherfolk, seafarers and Filipinos who travel between islands,” according to Jane J. Basas, Head of Consumer Wireless Business at Smart.
In addition, the service can also serve Filipinos who live in the hinterlands who rely on satellite TV to enjoy entertainment, Gen Z’s who like to hike in nature, as well as search and rescue teams during disasters.