Philippines Globe: New network configuration, new MBB gains

The Philippines has a population of more than 100 million with the number of mobile broadband (MBB) subscribers increasing rapidly. The MBB subscribers enjoy surfing the web, playing online games, and using social media. The local mobile operator, Globe Telecom (hereinafter referred to as Globe), is delivering a better broadband experience by deploying multi-sector networks that greatly increase network capacity. 

New MBB services, new subscribers

There are 121.8 million mobile connections (GSMA intelligence) in the Philippines, with the mobile broadband penetration being 45% and growing at ultra-fast rate. In 2013, Globe began attracting more subscribers and encouraging them to use data services by providing special promotions to popular social media platforms like Facebook and Viber. Globe also launched highly attractive packages to gain more subscribers and boost data usage, triggering demand for data services to surge. Data services since then have turned into Globe's main revenue growth driver. According to forecasts, Globe will serve almost 60 million MBB subscribers by 2020 (GSMA intelligence), with the number of 3G subscribers increasing by 1.6 times and 4G subscribers by 6.5 times from 2015. 

However, this rapid growth in data services has placed enormous pressure on the operator's wireless network capacity. In Manila, a large number of 3G sites experienced resource utilization rate of over 80 percent during busy hours, which leads to lower than desired user experience. The network was in urgent need of capacity expansion due to the growth in number of new services and the need to improve user experience.

A quick-win and efficient solution is needed to address this challenge. The 6-sector solution increases network capacity by utilizing special antennas to split a 120-degree sector into two 60-degree sectors, thereby doubling the number of cells and air interface resources. This technology has the advantages of higher capacity gain, lower cost, and shorter deployment cycle compared to other solutions, such as adding new sites. 

New network, new competitiveness

Globe and Huawei jointly planned the deployment of the 6-sector solution across the entire network in Manila area to increase individual site capacity by 70 percent, to cater for the requirements of growing MBB users and traffic growth. 

If 3-sector sites are reconstructed to 6-sector sites in a piecemeal, patch-it-up fashion, only short-term demand can be met and the network will be unable to accommodate growing capacity demands. To improve the value of sites and consider future needs, Huawei and Globe jointly aligned Globe's whole network with future demand in terms of spectrum, infrastructure, and new technology. In this way, Globe could deploy 6-sector as a benchmark for UMTS sites in urban areas, changing its strategy from passive capacity expansion to whole network deployment of 6-sector. The adopted approach of 6-sector deployment lays a solid foundation for future network growth.

Three types of sites were targeted for the 6-sector upgrade: congested sites, high profile customer service sites, and sites with the potential demand for high capacity. The initial plan was to reconstruct over 80 percent of sites in Manila area to 6-sector sites to increase network capacity. In sites where 6-sector was already deployed on UMTS 2100MHz, large traffic boost was observed: downlink data traffic grew nearly by 50 percent, uplink data traffic by 74.73 percent and voice traffic by 31.69 percent. In addition, the drive test results showed that the user throughput was improved by more than 100 percent, greatly boosting user experience.

A good quality network providing a better user experience attracts more subscribers. In May 2016, the number of active HSDPA users in Globe's network grew by 68 percent over the same period last year.

Systematic deployment

When it comes to the whole-network deployment, there are still many challenges for the 6-sector solution, such as the complex deployment scenario, un-targeted delivery progress, and strong interference. The situation became worse in urban areas where the radio frequency (RF) issues occurred on targeted sites, affecting capacity gains and network key performance indicator (KPI) performance. 

Huawei 6-sector solution is an end-to-end (E2E) solution, including professional & dedicated tools, which cover the whole delivery procedure from planning, execution to the optimization stage. For the planning stage, accurate site planning (ASP) meets the requirements of special scenarios to mitigate the potential network impact after deployment. For the execution and optimization stage, site optimization tools such as automatic cell planning (ACP) and SmartRNO are utilized to accelerate the pace of successful deployment, thereby reducing potential RF issues.

With the help of these tools, over 1000 6-sector sites have been successfully launched at the top valued area (Capital area).

Smooth Evolution to LTE Multi-Sector 

As prices for LTE terminals are growing down and LTE penetration increases, LTE capacity bottlenecks in some regions will occur in the short term. By splitting sectors and sharing user numbers, deploying 6-sector on LTE networks can also alleviate future pressure on capacity and guarantee user experience. Whole-network deployment of 6-sector in urban areas is a simple capacity expansion solution that provides many years of value. 

The whole-network six-sector solution in Manila area has provided Globe with a solid foundation to develop new services and subscribers, monetize data traffic, and improve user experience. It has addressed network capacity pressures and provided valuable lessons for deploying 6-sector, which will be incorporated into future whole-network six-sector deployment. 

More importantly, the whole-network 6-sector solution in urban areas has set a new network deployment benchmark for the industry to develop 6-sector network topology.