October 4, 2021
Smart Communications has become a member of what is still a somewhat small and exclusive club in the mobile industry: It is one of the few operators in the world to have launched a 5G standalone (SA) network.
In other words, the Philippines-based operator is using a separate 5G core and operating a network that is no longer anchored to 4G. The new infrastructure supports network slicing and opens up industrial and enterprise opportunities, for example.
Although worth noting as a milestone, Smart's 5G SA network is not yet widely available. In fact, it has been launched only in Makati – a city in the Metro Manila region and the country's financial hub. PLDT-owned Smart said its "first batch" of 5G SA sites is fully operational.
The operator also noted that it has now deployed more than 4,000 non-standalone 5G sites nationwide, supported by PLDT's 524,000 kilometer fiber network. Smart first launched 5G services in 2020.
The operator has collaborated with Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia on 5G, although it only name-checked the Swedish vendor in today's release. For example, Smart said it has teamed up with Ericsson to develop 5G use cases at the PLDT-Smart Technolab, which currently hosts one of the 5G SA sites.
5G SA: Still thin on the ground
Very few 5G SA networks of any size have been launched to date.
According to an August 2021 update from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), just 13 operators had launched commercial public 5G SA networks as of the middle of August.
Some 45 other operators are planning or deploying 5G SA for public networks, and 23 operators are involved in tests or trials.
In terms of non-standalone 5G, the GSA said 166 operators in 67 countries or territories had launched 3GPP-compliant 5G mobile services, while 63 operators in 34 countries or territories had launched 3GPP-compliant 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) or home broadband services.
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Smart is certainly the first to launch 5G SA in the Philippines, while rival Globe Telecom is testing the technology. Smart and Globe still dominate the Philippines mobile market, despite a challenge from China Telecom-backed newcomer Dito Telecom.
Globe had 81.7 million mobile subscribers and Smart 71.7 million at the end of the second quarter.
After a somewhat sticky start, Dito does seem to be picking up subscribers. In September, it said it has signed up 2.6 million mobile subscribers since its launch in March and expects to reach 6 million by the end of the year. Mobile number portability (MNP) has just been rolled out in the Philippines, meanwhile, making it much easier for users to switch operators.
— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
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