The major network infrastructure vendors likely are going to see a boost in fourth quarter sales compared with the previous quarter, but many long-term challenges to profitability remain, and consolidation lurks as a potential issue.
The companies likely are going to have a better 2010 than 2009. The research firm Gartner predicts the infrastructure market will shrink by 2 percent this year, compared with 7 percent last year. Still, it's unclear whether LTE orders will lead to as much growth in the market as had been thought. All the while, intense competition from the likes of Huawei could put even more pressure on struggling vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens Networks.
"Current prices are clearly not at levels that sustainably can support multiple mobile infrastructure players," Bengt Nordstrom, the head of Swedish telecoms consultancy Northstream, told Reuters. "Our prediction is that the number of global full infrastructure players will be reduced to three during 2010."
Ericsson, which has faced intense competition from Huawei in its home Scandinavian region, is expected to have stronger sales and earnings than it had in the third quarter, when its profit tumbled 71 percent. There some unknowns though, including how its managed services deal with Sprint Nextel will affect margins and whether its Sony Ericsson joint venture will drag on profits. Ericsson reports earnings Jan. 25.
Nokia Siemens Networks, in the midst of a vast restructuring, likely will lose market share, though its sales are expected to be higher than in the third quarter. Nokia and Siemens recently reiterated their support for the struggling joint venture, which after it reported third quarter results said it might cut nearly 6,000 jobs as part of a cost-cutting program. Nokia Siemens reports Jan. 28, along with Nokia.
Alcatel-Lucent, still struggling to get to profitability, is expected to enjoy a sequential rise in sales in the fourth quarter. Analysts will be looking to see if the company can meet its target of break-even at the adjusted operating level in 2009. Analysts also will be looking for confirmation of a forecast that the market will be between flat and up 5 percent this year. Alcatel-Lucent reports earnings Feb. 11.