Report: Sprint, Clearwire and T-Mobile drive global capex spike

Mobile and fixed broadband deployments in the United States and across Asia are pumping up global telecom capital expenditures this year, according to Infonetics Research.

"We're expecting a telecom capex hike in 2012 as operators around the world ramp their spending like crazy to launch LTE networks, modernize their mobile networks and carry out national wireline broadband initiatives. Operators have to invest in their networks or they'll disappear. Competition is too cutthroat not to," said Stephane Teral, Infonetics principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics.

Global telecom carrier capex grew 3 percent to $301 billion in 2011 from 2010. Infonetics expects the spending to level out in 2015 and 2016 at around $345 billion.

infonetics chart

Infonetics predicts that telecom capex will spike this year.

Wireless operators' share of capex is forecast to grow from a quarter to nearly a third of global capex between 2012 and 2016. Key capex contributors this year in the United States are Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), Sprint (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA, which are all building LTE networks. Sprint is preparing for commercial LTE launches this summer in select markets, T-Mobile expects to install new, LTE-capable base station equipment at 2,500 sites by the end of July and WiMAX operator Clearwire intends to deploy a TD-LTE overlay network on 5,000 cell sites by June 2013.

Other top capex contributors this year include NTT DoCoMo and Softbank Mobile in Japan, KT, LGU+ and SK Telecom in South Korea, according to Infonetics.

Infonetics noted that China recently revealed a US$58 billion economic stimulus package to fund telecom infrastructure. In Europe, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, France Telecom, Telecom Italia and Telefonica increased capital intensity by 2 percentage points for the first time in five years despite the continent's economic woes, said Infonetics.

In separate study, the research firm recently estimated that the number of mobile broadband subscribers grew nearly 50 percent in 2011 to 846 million. Infonetics projects that number will expand to 2.6 billion by 2016, driven by expansion in Brazil, Russia, India, China and other emerging markets.

"We anticipate Asia-Pacific to account for over half of the world's mobile broadband subscribers by 2016, while Latin America will see the fastest growth," said Teral.

Total mobile subscribers worldwide will the 6-billion mark this year and approach 7 billion by 2016, according to Infonetics. China Mobile, Vodafone and America Movil are the world's top mobile operators by number of subscribers

Infonetics forecasts the number of LTE subscribers worldwide will near 450 million by 2016. Despite market support for TD-LTE, which will prompt some subscriber migration to TD-LTE, WiMAX subscribers are expected to grow at a 35 percent compound annual growth rate through 2016, when they will top 132 million, said the firm.

For more:
- see this Infonetics release and this release

Related articles:
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CTIA: 123% annual data traffic growth underlines spectrum crunch
ABI: Credit LTE for growing capex and patent royalties
U.S. operators opening the floodgates for LTE capex surge
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