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Mobile CAPEX: Leap of Faith Business Strategy

Recent reports of the lower than expected uptake of mobile phone related value-added services apparently won't discourage service providers from investing in additional broadband infrastructure. New research has uncovered incremental capital expenditure (CAPEX) by the major mobile operators, along with their strategies for the future.

In 2006, GSM is the dominant cellular technology, but by 2012, WCDMA will receive the highest CAPEX investment by mobile operators, according to a study from ABI Research. By 2012, worldwide mobile CAPEX will exceed $150 billion.

"Mobile operators' attitudes towards CAPEX have changed over the past two or three years," says mobile wireless research analyst Shailendra Pandey. "They are clearly becoming more focused on an early return on their investments."

Greater emphasis on data services is resulting in increased investment in servers and platforms outside the range of traditional wireless equipment. In developed markets there is now more focus on making investments that will improve in-building coverage, and the rollout of advanced data services such as mobile TV and mobile broadband.

To offer advanced data and content services with improved delivery and reduced network costs, mobile operators will have to invest in more leased capacity, upgrade to microwave technologies, and add fiber links where microwave technologies have been exhausted, in an effort to boost their networks' backhaul capacity. Operators will also have to deploy advanced switching technology in the backhaul network, to improve traffic flow and maximize the performance of the backhaul infrastructure.

In 2005, China Mobile's CAPEX in China was $8.86 billion, more than Vodafone's global total CAPEX ($8.74 billion), which is remarkable considering the high value of CAPEX spent per-subscriber and per service revenue dollar generated.

In North America, Cingular's CAPEX investment in 2005 was $7.475 billion, 116 percent more than in 2004. This was due to Cingular's investments in building out its WCDMA network.

"ABI Research expects that investment in technologies supporting HSDPA, mobile TV, and mobile broadband services will continue to expand in the coming years," says Pandey. "Also, by 2007, a good number of mobile operators will start rolling out IMS (IP multimedia subsystems), enabling them to rapidly deploy and launch enhanced revenue-generating multimedia services."

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