Philippine carriers set to expand GSM networks

Two of the Philippines' major GSM network operators plan to spend billions of pesos in 2001 to help ease their heavily congested networks. Both Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc. told Computerworld Philippines that they will be investing billions in network expansion projects this year.

"About US$662 million worth of capital expenditure will be allotted by Globe for network expansion projects within the year," said Gold Endriga of the public relations group of Globe Telecom.

She added that although Globe has already expanded its subscriber capacity to 3.45 million, ensuring there is enough room for its 2.6 million current users, the company will continue to set up and upgrade SMS (short message service) centers all over the country. As of January this year, Globe reported that it had 1,168 cell sites nationwide. Of these, 81 percent are for the 900MHz network and 19 percent are for the 1800MHz network.

Also recently, Globe Telecom's supplier for its messaging and mobile internet solutions, CMG Telecommunications, informed Computerworld that Globe purchased an additional short messaging service center (SMSC) from them early this year. According to Marien van Ouwerkerk, sales director at London-based CMG, the SMSC has a proven capacity of 2,500 messages per second.

"This will increase Globe's message handling capacity to a total of 10.8 million messages per hour. Globe's last upgrade took place in June 2000, which resulted in a throughput of 1,000 messages per second. However, the continuing growth in SMS in the Philippines made another upgrade necessary," Ouwerkerk said. The growth in SMS is mainly due to the increase in mobile-to- mobile traffic and a growth in subscribers. SMS is now considered a powerful communication medium in the country, which is available to most people.

Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., one of Globe Telecom's major shareholders, also announced the possible commercial deployment of a new Airslide SMS/IP Nebula Gateway over Globe's current network infrastructure. This is after the successful trial that involved installing two Airslide SMS/IP products, building an IP backbone environment, and running live SMS traffic from the SMS centers to and from Globe's mobile switching center (MSC) in Bacoor, Cavite.

"The field trial was structured to test Airslide's ability to alleviate SMS congestion on Globe's cellular network," said Chua Boon Ping of SingTel Ventures.

"It is also a stepping stone in achieving yet another breakthrough in GSM technology which is allowing A-bis signaling over IP networks. This will reduce the impact of SMS traffic on the mobile switches in terms of load processing which immensely affects the capacity. The SMS signaling messages will bypass the mobile switches and will directly be transferred to the SMSC. Thus, SMS signaling information need not be processed in the MSCs," he added.

Chua stressed that the trial was conducted "in view of commercial deployment", but he declined to say when the full installation of the infrastructure would take place.

Smart Communications, for its part, said that it is working on accomplishing its 21 billion peso (US$436.6 million) network expansion program for this year through the installation of new GSM base equipment that will increase the capacity of its digital mobile phone network. According to Rolando Pena, Network Services Division at Smart Communications, the new equipment -- called Ultrasites -- can handle more than twice the capacity of Smart's existing base stations.

"UltraSite stations can carry as much as 10,000 to 20,000 subscribers versus 5,000 to 6,000 for the older models," he said. "Almost 30 UltraSites have already been installed in Luzon, and hundreds more will be set up to form the core of the company's future network."

Aside from expanding its network of base stations, the company aims to further increase the switch capacity of its GSM network from about four million subscribers to over six million by the end of 2001. At present, Smart has 17 GSM mobile switches, about 1,300 radio base stations, and more than 1,300 cell sites across the country, said Nick Wilwayco, Public Affairs officer at Smart Communications.

Smart also hopes to increase its switching capacity which currently handles four million subscribers to 6.5 million subscribers by the end of the year. It is also planning to increase the number of its cell sites from 1,360 to 2,250 by December.

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