How have mobile network service providers been preparing for the continued adoption of smartphones that will create a groundswell of new data traffic? We now know that global capital expenditure (CAPEX) weakened in the fourth quarter of 2011 for many mobile operators -- as they trimmed their budgets for the remainder of 2011.
However, according to the latest market study by ABI Research, confidence is returning in the first half of 2012 as mobile network operators start to switch over from LTE trials to commercial service deployment in a number of key markets.
"Mobile capital expenditure is forecasted to grow 9 percent to $111.1 billion in 2012, supported by renewed investment in radio access network (RAN) infrastructure and in-building wireless access," says Jake Saunders, vice president of forecasting at ABI Research.
Operators have been reviewing their macro RAN architectures and are opting to scale up their rooftop and street-level small cells as well as distributed base station antenna deployments -- to better handle the anticipated new data traffic.
A large proportion of the increased capital expenditure year-on-year comes from the Asia-Pacific region. China Mobile, for example is still spending 57 percent of in annual CAPEX on radio network infrastructure, followed by 18 percent on its transmission and backbone network.
China Mobile has deployed 900 TD-LTE base-stations in six cities as part of the trial but plans to have 200,000 BTS by 2013.
After China, the North American market is the next buoyant market for CAPEX, although overall CAPEX will soften 1.3 percent over the year.
AT&T has been adding capacity to its network and expanding backhaul. Sprint allocates 86 percent of its CAPEX to investment in in data capacity increases and overhauling its legacy network of base stations for multi-mode equipment.
Verizon is also increasing selective investment in infrastructure -- within its fiber-optic network, 4G LTE coverage, global IP and cloud-based services.
European CAPEX has been on the back foot relative to North America and Asia-Pacific due to weak macroeconomic factors and regulatory issues. That being said, by 2013 ABI expects to start to seeing some of the European CAPEX come back as LTE upgrades roll-out across the region.
ABI Research studies mobile operator CAPEX market data in Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America, North America, Middle East and Africa, and Western Europe. They provide CAPEX values on a quarter-by-quarter basis for 100 different carrier operating companies, as well as forecasts, across all major global regions.