PLDT’s mobile unit Smart Communications detailed plans to more than double its 5G footprint in 2021 and expand LTE sites, as it continues to keep capex elevated despite pressure on mobile revenue from the pandemic.

The operator plans to add 3,800 5G base stations this year to take the total count to 7,000 sites. Smart said 5G outdoor coverage in the Manila metropolitan area of the Philippines reached more than 90 per cent at end-March.

It also will deploy another 4,000 LTE base stations in 2021. It currently has about 31,900 4G sites.

Capex in the first quarter rose 5.6 per cent from the same period a year ago to PHP20.7 billion ($428 million). It earmarked between PHP88 billion and PHP92 billion for full-year capex, up from PHP71.9 billion in 2020.

Commenting on Q1 results, chairman and CEO Manuel Pangilinan (pictured) said shifting quarantine restrictions strengthen the mandate for resilient digital connectivity and services, expressing guarded optimism.

“Once again, we face exceptional times with exceptional challenges. We must rise to the challenge not with a commonplace response, but with our unique style of activism and passion – keeping people connected everywhere,” Pangilinan said.

Net profit slipped 2 per cent year-on-year to PHP5.8 billion, while consolidated service revenue grew 9 per cent to PHP45.7 billion, driven by a 17 per cent increase in mobile data turnover and a 23 per cent jump in broadband sales.

Total wireless service revenue was up 4 per cent to PHP24.2 billion; fixed-line service review jumped 13 per cent PHP20.9 billion. Data accounted for 78 per cent of mobile revenue in the quarter, up from 73 per cent in 1Q 2020.

Smart’s post-paid user base fell 3 per cent to 2.1 million, while prepaid subscribers dipped 2 per cent to 69.7 million. Post-paid ARPU increased 1.9 per cent to PHP819 and prepaid down 7.1 per cent to PHP104.

Smart recently introduced an unlimited 5G data plan and expanded the range of compatible devices to attract customers to switch from LTE.