Credit Suisse report: U.S. wireless networks running at 80% of total capacity

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Wireless networks in the United States are operating at 80 percent of total capacity, the highest of any region in the world, according to a report prepared by investment bank Credit Suisse. The firm argued that wireless carriers likely will need to increase their spending on infrastructure to meet users' growing demands for mobile data.

Click here for wireless network utilization across the globe, according to Credit Suisse.

The report said that, globally, average peak network utilization rates are at 65 percent, and that peak network utilization levels will reach 70 percent within the next year. The proprietary report is based on a survey of 38 "key decision makers" at wireless operators globally.

In addition to network utilization, the report found that 23 percent of base stations globally have capacity constraints, or utilization rates of more than 80 to 85 percent in busy hours, up from 20 percent last year. In the United States, the percentage of base stations with capacity constraints is 38 percent, up from 26 percent in 2010. The report said that 57 percent of survey respondents expect spending on radio access networks (RAN) to grow fastest within mobile infrastructure on the whole, as carriers try and handle users' data traffic. Further, the analysts found, RAN spending plans have been revised up by 6 percent this year already.  

What does all of this mean for wireless capital expenses? Survey respondents indicated that they expect capex to rise 10 percent in 2011 and 16 percent in 2012. "Wireless capex expectations may need to increase longer-term," Credit Suisse analyst Jonathan Chaplin wrote in a research note accompanying the report. "Many investors seem to expect capital intensity to start to decline in 2012 once LTE spending is largely complete. Investors may be underestimating the level of equipment spending that is required on an ongoing basis to support rapid growth in wireless data."

And what does this mean for spectrum? "We think this is generally supportive of our view that carrier spectrum will be rapidly consumed and that spectrum assets are generally undervalued," Chaplin wrote.

Wireless carriers have repeatedly noted users' increasing demands for data. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), which is in the process of purchasing T-Mobile USA in a transaction the carrier argues is necessary for it to meet users' data demands, recently said data traffic on its network has grown 8,000 percent during the past three years.

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