Thanks to the heavy competition coming from Chinese vendors the infrastructure business is a low-margin business. Indeed, Huawei and ZTE are striking fear in the likes of Ericsson, which partly blamed its dismal results in the fourth quarter of last year on Chinese competition. And it's with good reason. Huawei saw some significant momentum in 2007 with UMTS deals with the industry's largest operators: Telecom Italia, Vodafone and T-Mobile International. ZTE, which generates much of its sales from wireless infrastructure and devices, is expected to report an increase in annual profits of at least 50 percent when it reveals its full 2007 earnings results.
But to reach the upper echelon of the mobile infrastructure world, Huawei and ZTE need to strike some significant wins in the U.S. market, where operators seem to be fiercely loyal to their infrastructure vendors. ZTE and Huawei have racked up some wins. Huawei has a CDMA deal with Leap Wireless. ZTE has a WiMAX device deal with Sprint, which it no doubt hopes will translate into infrastructure too.
But Huawei and ZTE have to be wringing their hands over the prospects of the 700 MHz auction. The playing field will be even as most operators will likely look to deploy an OFDMA-based system such as WiMAX or LTE. As such, we should see some interesting dog fights for new contracts going forward as Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Nortel can't afford to get pushed out of one of the world's most important markets. That's good news for license winners.--Lynnette