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North American Carrier Status Quo Investment

North American service provider's capital expenditures totaled $68.6 billion in 2006, up 8 percent from 2005, and are projected to increase 12 percent to $76.7 billion in 2010, according to a new report from Infonetics Research.

The report, also shows that despite strong M&A activity among telcos like Verizon, MCI, AT&T, BellSouth, and Cingular that created several months of investment disruption, RBOCs, Canadian ILECs, and cable MSOs increased their capex in 2006, and intend to increase it again through at least 2009 to sustain their major projects.

The third year of the new investment cycle identified previously is now starting, and is expected to plateau in 2009 or 2010. The service provider landscape that has emerged in North America is dominated by two giant telcos, AT&T and Verizon, and a cluster of powerful cable MSOs such as Cox, Time Warner, and Comcast.

"As everyone is finally starting to enter everyone else's turf -- telcos are offering IPTV, cable MSOs are offering VoIP, for example -- the convergence between information technology, media, Internet, and telecommunications is adding new competitive pressures that are driving this new investment cycle," said Stephane Teral, principal analyst at Infonetics Research.

Given the stable status-quo level of investment, it's unlikely that this will enable the North American markets to catch up to the leading Asia-Pacific markets. Assuming that regulatory policies continue to sustain the carrier duopoly of incumbent telco/cable players, then I believe that it's somewhat possible that U.S. and Canadian markets could reach the broadband penetration rates of the European market leaders by 2010.

However, both the Asia-Pacific and European markets will likely still lead North American markets because of their superior next-generation networks, lower consumer prices and much higher broadband data rates.

The following are Infonetics report highlights:

- Over the 5-year period from 2006 to 2010, North American service providers will spend a cumulative $369.6 billion on capital expenditures.

- The combined revenue of all public North American carriers inched up 3 percent in 2006 to $403 billion.

- Capex-to-revenue ratios are expected to remain stable at around 17 percent through 2008 due to a number of mid-term projects, and then will trend down to about 16 percent in 2010.

- AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and Verizon together will make up 61 percent of total public service provider capex in North America in 2007, driven by AT&T's Project Lightspeed FTTN and Verizon's FTTP initiative.

- Incumbent cable MSOs plan to spend over $15 billion on capital expenditures in 2007 as they continue investing in all IP network migration.

- Of the capex going to telecom and datacom equipment, the top three investment areas in 2006 were voice, mobile RAN, and optical equipment.

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