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China slashes telecom capex by 21%

Posted: 26 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:China telecom capex? 3G? mobile network? LTE?

With its 3G building binge almost over, China's three major telecom operators is expected to slash their spending on capital equipment by more than 20 percent in 2010. The decline is greater than expected, driving analyst to anticipate lower revenues for system and chipmakers including Ericsson.

China's carriers were a bright light in the downturn of 2008-2009 as they finally gave the green light to building out their 3G cellular networks. With the build outs largely complete, market watchers had expected declines in 2010, but not ones as steep as the carriers reported in recent quarterly financial calls.

China carriers are now expected to spend a total of about 262 billion renminbi ($38.37 billion), down 21 percent from 2009, and mobile spending should be down about 25 percent, according to Barclays Capital. Flat spending in Europe and an uptick in U.S. mobile network spending will offset the losses.

Overall capex on wireless networks will dip 1.8 percent worldwide, according to a recent iSuppli report.

China Unicom, which reported its plans early this week, is taking the biggest cuts, slashing its total capex budget 35 percent in 2010 to 73.5 billion renminbi ($10.76 billion).

China capital spending 2009-2010 (Click to view full image.)

China Telecom is keeping its wireline spending flat at about 28 billion renminbi ($4.1 billion), but it expects to cut its mobile spending by 50 percent in 2010 to about 26.8 billion renminbi ($3.92 million) after doubling mobile capex in 2010, Barclays reported.

For its part, China Mobile will only shave its total capex 5 percent in 2010. Like the other carriers, it will increase spending on wireless handsets as it tries to more than double its 3G subscribers to 10 million in 2010. For China Mobile that means about $500 million in additional handset subsidies this year.

Among equipment vendors, Ericsson is likely to suffer most, followed by Nokia Siemens Networks, Alcatel Lucent, Motorola and China's top equipment vendors Huawei and ZTE. Among chipmakers, Altera and Xilinx have the greatest exposure to the market for base stations and other wireless gear.

Despite the downturn in China spending, Barclays Capital did not change overall revenue estimates for the FPGA makers. Analysts noted wired telecom business from Cisco, HuaWei, ZTE and others remains strong. In addition, capex for wireless systems in the U.S. is expected to be up about 12 percent in 2010, driven in part by the first deployments of FPGA-rich LTE systems and high-end 3G services.

Dell 'Oro Group recently estimated carriers will spend about $240 million on LTE this year, soaring to $5 billion in 2014.

Analysts from J.P. Morgan Chase and Co. were more cautious on the impact for FPGA makers, though they maintained neutral ratings for Altera and Xilinx.

"We believe Xilinx and Altera are at risk of an inventory build up," said J.P. Morgan Chase analysts in a research note. "The China base station market represents roughly eight percent of total Xilinx revenue and 12 percent of total Altera revenue," it said.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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