The world economy may be teetering on the brink of a double-dip recession, but business is booming for wireless infrastructure vendors. According to Jake Saunders, Vice President of Forecasting for ABI Research, "Base station installations in 2011 will total at least 10 percent more than anyone expected just one year ago and we also see increases in planned orders for 2012 and beyond."
There are a number of factors contributing to the increase in base station shipments, but two countries in particular are significant to growth. Operators in China will more than double their number of 3G subscribers by the end of 2011, with low cost smartphones becoming popular there. Meanwhile, US operators are investing large amounts of CAPEX in 4G. Reports indicate that Verizon has installed or upgraded 20,000 to 30,000 base stations over the past 16 months, AT&T is starting to launch LTE services in major cities around the country, and Sprint's Network Vision will see most of its existing infrastructure replaced by multi-mode base stations that can support 2G, 3G and 4G simultaneously.
The major motivation for mobile operators to expand their networks comes from the continuing growth in mobile broadband data traffic, driven by increasing penetration of smartphones (and, to a lesser extent, tablets). "Existing networks are struggling to cope with the surge in data traffic, so operators are forced to increase capacity," says Jim Eller, Principal Analyst for wireless infrastructure. "However, operators are finding new revenue opportunities with mobile data, which more than compensate for decreasing voice revenues, so they are expecting good returns on this investment."
Moving 2G subscribers to 3G, and 3G to 4G, results in more efficiencies for operators and allows operators to offer more data services.