By Denise A. Valdez, Reporter

PLDT, Inc. announced on Thursday it is tapping technology provider Cisco Systems, Inc. for the digital transformation of its IP transport infrastructure, which will support the telco’s preparation for fifth generation (5G) network.

The two companies, led by PLDT Chairman, President and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan and Cisco Chairman Charles H. Robbins, signed the multimillion-dollar contract on Thursday at Shangri-la at the Fort in Taguig City. The investment will cover the three-year implementation of the first phase of the program.

“The first phase contract is (worth) multimillion dollars. But it will grow. It’s a multi-year thing,” Mr. Pangilinan told reporters after the signing.

Under the partnership, Cisco will provide PLDT with the technology to craft automated, reliable and scalable infrastructure that will improve its existing fiber network and prepare it for the massive rollout of 5G.

“The transport infrastructure is typically a neglected element of our transport architecture, but it’s actually a critical component… For the past 15 or 20 years, we’ve been continuously laying our fiber. But it’s time now to modernize our transport network and we have no better partner than Cisco,” Mr. Pangilinan said.

As of February this year, PLDT said its total fiber footprint was at 255,000 kilometers all over the country, making it the most extensive in the Philippines at present.

PLDT Chief Technology and Information Advisor Joachim Horn said partnering with Cisco will allow them to build “one of the most modern transport networks in Asia by maximizing the capabilities of the fiber infrastructure that (they) have already put in place.”

For his part, Mr. Robbins said the partnership is timely as emerging technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things will give them “incredible opportunities together.”

“Our partnership with PLDT shows the breadth of Cisco’s capabilities in implementing a fully automated, software-driven network that can serve millions of subscribers, scale rapidly and be ready for 5G,” Miyuki Suzuki, Cisco president for Asia Pacific, Japan and China, added.

Mr. Pangilinan said the company expects to enter one to two more deals for 5G within the year. This comes after PLDT also signed contracts with Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.; Ericsson Telecommunications, Inc. and Nokia Corp.

“There might be one or two more this year,” he told reporters was asked for future plans for 5G.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.