PLDT hails early digital transformation in weathering pandemic

Philippines-based telecoms group PLDT hailed its preparation in future-proofing its network which proved vital during the Covid-19 pandemic, and urged other operators to diligently bolster their networks, in order to prepare for a new normal of operating.

Speaking at the Huawei Better World Summit NetX 2025 & X-Tech, Joachim Horn, Chief Technology and Information Advisor of Smart and PLDT, said: “The pandemic introduced a new challenge and environment. The requirements of our customers changed and so in turn our business, the need of being connected has never been higher than now, these requirements are no longer focused on area where business was being conducted, it moved to homes. The improvement of home connectivity will become a major priority going forward.”

Aside from a global health crisis, being an operator of a huge archipelago such as the Philippines brings challenges not commonly faced by most operators.

Philippines is an archipelago that with 7,641 islands, which means it is already challenging when it comes to connecting all the islands and customers. On top of that, Philippines is sitting on the so-called “ring of fire”, experiencing 20 typhoons and 2,000 earthquakes per year and has 22 active volcanoes. These natural calamities set high requirements on building a network with high resilience and availability.

PLDT claims to be the country’s only integrated telco in the Philippines serving enterprises and consumers with fixed and mobile services such as: mobile data, mobile broadband, fixed wireless, fixed wired internet access and IPTV service.

Horn detailed how the operator laid out plans in 2015: to provide the best customer experience, regain technology leadership, and have its network ready for 5G by 2020.

PLDT’s multi-year digital transformation journey covers all areas including end-to-end service orchestration, core network virtualization, transport network modernisation, OSS/BSS transformation and enterprise systems transformation. Among all areas, the biggest constraint PLDT had was actually the transport network as it was full of legacy equipment and architecture is not optimized. PLDT then decided to focus on transport, to bring it to a level where it becomes an enabler rather than a problem.

The key design criteria were that the transformation should lead to a converged network designed for peak throughput, highly scalable, intelligent (SDN), offering any service anywhere with high resilience and low latency.

Besides choosing the right technologies, it is also important to put the right priorities in defining the target transport network. After extensive discussions with Huawei and other major vendors, PLDT defines that a congestion-free transport network should be designed for peak throughput, highly scalable, intelligent (SDN), any service anywhere, highly resilient, low latency, converged network and legacy-free.

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By working towards these targets, PLDT began planning and deploying a whole new transport network in 2017 with Huawei as the major vendor who played a critical role as mentioned by Horn.

Completed in this February, the new transport network is ready for service in February this year, “we were able to inaugurate nationwide a completely SDN-based optical and IP network which fulfilled all the requirements shown earlier”, said Horn. This is believed to be one of the most advanced network in the region.

The new network is completed right on time as PLDT was able to cope with increased traffic when the Philippines entered one of the “strictest lockdowns globally”, as countries began shuttering in March.

The pandemic forced Filipinos to adapt. Traditionally cash-based small businesses had to move sales and payments online, office workers operated remotely, and children had to be home schooled. Everyone needed an internet connection.

“It was a challenging situation for the country but luckily, because of the changes we made and the architecture we have chosen, we were able to cope with the requirements. We saw a 25 per cent increase in traffic in the first week alone”, said Horn.

“We had to upgrade our transport network internationally, we had to double our capacity, add 3/4 terabits per second into our IP backbone in the Philippines and many locations, and most nodes had to be upgraded. We did this 95 to 98 per cent by working from home.”

“Because of the new technology and the ability to remotely control, add capacity and activate services, optimize and manage user experiences. We were able to cope with the massive increase in traffic.”

Lessons learnt

Looking back on PLDT’s multi-year digital transformation, Horn pointed to certain lessons gained from it. The number one priority must always be the customer and any upgrades enacted must benefit the customer, as a transport network transformation takes time and money.

On technological achievements, Horn proudly stated PLDT’s network is congestion-free, designed for peak throughput, and was “well-prepared” when launching 5G in July.

“Last but not least was the ability to react in this period when customers needed service the most, that was the most satisfying moment in this project during these unprecedented times. It showed the value of such a transformation if you do it in time”, concluded Horn.


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