Puerto Princesa, Palawan, June 20, 2003 By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes (Star) Puerto Princesa, Palawan – Leading mobile phone operator Smart Communications is spending around P500 million to link the province of Palawan to the rest of the world.

Of the total layout, about P220 million of this will be spent to set up a new transmission backbone while the rest will be for other facilities such as cellsites.

With this new communications highway, it is expected that Smart and Talk ‘N Text cellular phone subscribers in Palawan will enjoy clearer voice calls and also be able to use advanced communication services — such as picture messaging and mobile Internet — that were previously not possible using satellite transmission systems.

Smart cell sites will be gradually migrated from existing satellite transmission links to the new backbone facility over the next few months.

The backbone will also service the requirements in Palawan of other members of the PLDT Group such as the landline network of the Pilipino Telephone Corp. (Piltel). It will also enable other companies such as banks, Internet service providers, and tourism establishments to further improve their operations through high-capacity data communications facilities.

According to Smart president and chief executive officer Napoleon Nazareno, the project is part of the company’s thrust to extend advanced and innovative wireless services to more areas of the country. "We hope to serve as a catalyst for growth," he said.

Prior to the launch yesterday of Smart’s new facility in Palawan, all telecom operators in the province used satellite-based transmission systems, which are easy to deploy in remote areas, but are relatively expensive to use and suffer from limited capacity.

The new backbone will utilize the synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) system – the industry standard for high-speed, high-capacity telecom networks. It will link Puerto Princesa, Palawan to Batangas via Mindoro using 15 relay stations that stretch over a distance of 617 kilometers.

According to Smart network services division head Rolando Pena, the backbone is more reliable, has higher capacity, and is scalable, which means it can increase its capacity as demand grows.

Smart was the first cellular company to operate in Palawan, starting with the offering of analog services in November 1996. In 1999, Smart launched its global system for mobile communications (GSM).

Palawan’s distance from the rest of the telecom networks and its rugged terrain has posed major challenges to cellular operators. In rolling out its network, Smart initially linked its cellsites to the rest of the network using the very small aperture terminal (VSAT) technology. The VSAT system consists of a master earth station based in Manila, two-way satellite terminals located in remote points, and a satellite transponder in a geosynchronous orbit in space. Using this system, Smart subscribers in Palawan could send and receive text messages and make voice calls.

The voice calls however were susceptible to ‘echoes’ and slight delays. Because VSAT capacity was limited, general packet radio system (GPRS)-based services like MMS were not possible.

Anticipating Palawan’s future requirements, Palawan decided to build the microwave terrestrial backbone last year.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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