SINGAPORE: “By the end of 2010, 20 LTE networks are expected to have flicked the ‘on’ switch, but it may surprise many that LTE will only make up 11 percent of installed base stations by the end of 2015,” says Jake Saunders, VP for forecasting at ABI Research. “LTE population coverage will have crept up to 600 million by 4Q-2012, but 4G marketing hype will precede 4G reality for several years to come.”
4G has a number of elegant solutions embedded in the technology, but the reality is that 4G spectrum awards will occur in a fragmented manner and will need to pass legislative and legal challenges in many markets. In fact for many emerging markets, “4G mobility” is still very much an “out there” concept. Some markets in South America and Africa have yet to consolidate their 3G spectrum awards.
Of those carriers that have 3G licenses, many are being pragmatic: they have deployed HSDPA and HSUPA. Furthermore, 50 carriers have installed HSPA+, which enables speeds of up to 56 Mbps. ABI Research estimates that by 2015, 75 percent of WCDMA-capable base stations will have had the HSPA+ upgrade. In 2012 alone, equipment spending on HSPA+ will be 11 percent of total equipment expenditure.
Vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks, and Huawei can still get mileage out of selling 3G and 3.5G equipment. While the proportion of greenfield base stations has dropped, there is still a need to upgrade existing sites. Consider India. There has been a spending hiatus as carriers clarify which “Circles” they secured. The conclusion of 3G licensing in India should now see carriers getting out their checkbooks again.
Overall in 1Q-2010, operators demonstrated a subdued appetite for equipment despite the economic rebound in 2H-2009. In many countries, governments gave grants to in-market carriers as part of an overall “economic stimulus package.”
“4G equipment spending will be very much welcomed,” adds Aditya Kaul, practice director. “But vendors are also targeting the remaining emerging market for 3G, and also securing 3.5G framework agreements. That should improve vendor earnings in the latter half of 2010.”