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3G Investment Continues, Despite Problems

Equipment vendors continue to benefit from global service provider 3G wireless infrastructure investments, regardless of the consistently low global market uptake of value added services -- as the vast majority of subscribers use their 3G phones primarily for voice calls.

Still, ABI Research believes that after years of market uncertainty, with investors wringing their hands and restructuring their finances, they say that 3G has finally gained credibility.

"3G subscriptions, including CDMA2000, are forecast to hit 285 million by the end of 2006," says ABI Research's Asia-Pacific director, Jake Saunders. He goes on to say that, "Operators' overall capital expenditure will grow for the fourth year to reach $126.4 billion, and annual 3G-related handset shipments should pull past 300 million."

W-CDMA is starting to pull its weight in the 3G stakes, and is expected to overhaul CDMA2000 by about 2012, but CDMA2000 is certainly not out for the count: it has proved to be an efficient solution. Nevertheless, W-CDMA will continue to keep the pressure on, and as end-users replace their GSM handsets, many will default to purchasing a W-CDMA handset, providing manufacturers with increasing economies of scale.

But not even W-CDMA backers can afford to stand still. TD-SCDMA may be taking time to reach commercial reality in China, but it is already clear that Chinese infrastructure vendors, such as Datang Mobile, are re-engineering their solutions to offer a hybrid TD-SCDMA/HSDPA solution that makes the most of both technologies. WiMAX, too, cannot be underestimated.

These access technologies dictate the overall cost of service delivery and the functionality of the value-added services that operators wish to offer. They also determine which camps of vendors (and their upstream and downstream component suppliers) will receive the lion's share of the equipment-spending pie. Intangible factors such as legacy equipment integration, access to towers, backhaul infrastructure, handset lineups, and vendor financing also enter the equation.

"The exciting prospect is that national markets could be opening up to alternative access technologies more than ever before," says Saunders. "If the vendors of the new alternative 3G+ solutions can demonstrate that they can operate alongside existing 3G and even 2G infrastructures, the opportunities for new entrants (or even a few industry veterans such as Qualcomm and Lucent) could suddenly look a lot brighter."

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