Smart, the wireless subsidiary of Philippines operator PLDT, announced it is accelerating its 4G network upgrade programme with plans to cover 785 municipalities by the end of 2017.

The commitment is about half the target specified in a three-year network rollout plan submitted to the National Telecommunications Commission in July 2016. The operator, after jointly acquiring the telecoms assets of San Miguel with rival Globe Telecom, committed to covering 95 per cent of the population, or 1,551 cities and municipalities, by end-2018.

Smart aims to roll out 2,165 sites using LTE in low-spectrum bands and 3,568 sites in high-spectrum bands, said Joachim Horn, chief technology and information advisor for PLDT and Smart.

He said the backbone of the company’s digital strategy is its comprehensive network modernisation and expansion programme which will re-equip cell sites to use the 700MHz and 850MHz low-frequency bands. The plan also includes deploying sites using the 1800MHz and 2100MHz higher frequency bands to increase the capacity of each cell site.

Smart’s network investments have been paying off, Horn said, noting initial tests in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu – where upgrades are ongoing and expected to be completed in the next few months – show average LTE download speeds of 20Mb/s to 23.3Mb/s where the new cell site facilities have been installed.

PLDT announced it will boost capex to PHP46 billion ($916 million) this year, after spending PHP42.8 billion on capex in 2016.