PLDT-Smart Working On 'Cell Site in the Sky'
PLDT Inc and its wireless subsidiary Smart Communications are working on space-based mobile broadband communications in order to reach the country’s most remote and far-flung areas. This “cell site in the sky” will complement the company’s 4G and 5G rollout even as satellite broadband is increasingly becoming a viable source of connection for an archipelagic nation like the Philippines.
The company announced the plans soon after it signed a memorandum of understanding with AST SpaceMobile Inc., a U.S.-based satellite company that is building a cellular broadband network in space.
"This innovative space-based cellular broadband communication connects directly to our cellphones; no special device is needed,” said Mario G Tamayo, head of technology at PLDT and Smart. “As a supplement to our mobile coverage, this can fill the gap in providing our services to the deepest rural and remote areas in the country, so our customers can remain connected.”
Once launched, the space-based service is expected to connect Filipinos living in hard-to-reach, making things like online learning, ecommerce, online banking and many other things possible.
"In this latest innovation, Low-Earth Orbit satellites of AST SpaceMobile will be explored to deliver 4G and 5G signal to mobile devices of Smart customers,” said Arvin L. Siena, head of technology strategy and transformation office at PLDT and Smart. “Compared to GEO (or geostationary) satellites, LEO satellites are significantly closer to earth at around 700 kms, allowing them to deliver higher bandwidth with lower latency and communicate with regular smartphones.”
This isn’t the first attempt at bringing space-based internet and data to remote locations via space. Elon Musk’s Starlink started its public beta program in a few locations in the U.S. last year and has started accepting reservations for its planned expansion in several countries, including the Philippines.