Yankee Group: Wireline capex on the rise worldwide

Tier 1 carriers around the world have raised their capex levels, according to the Yankee Group. In its recent report, “New Opportunities for Vendors Emerge as Global Capex Rebounds,” the research and consultancy company says that wireline capex among these carriers should continue to grow in many cases as a percentage of revenue as well as in absolute numbers for the next several years. However, report author and Yankee Group senior analyst Nick Maynard cautions that vendors looking to take advantage of the more favorable climate need to strike quickly if they don’t want to face a return to tough times.

The Yankee Group examined the spending of 37 Tier 1 operators from around the world. The researchers limited themselves to wireline carriers and integrated operators with both wireline and wireless services-a collection responsible for almost half of global telecom spending, the research firm asserts.

Capex as the Yankee Group defines it includes expenditures on equipment, nonequipment outlays for such things as construction, and “intangible assets.” Equipment spending worldwide began to recover from the post-bubble downturn in 2003 and has recently picked up significantly, with Asia Pacific (particularly Japan, Korea, and China) leading the way. The Yankee Group expects this trend to continue through at least 2008, with North America and Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) spending growing strongly as well.

Moreover, capex growth in many cases will exceed revenue growth for the first time since the bubble. “The three regions are coalescing around the global average; it’s about 15%. That’s probably going to creep up over the next few years. Latin America will probably not join them at 15%, but will probably come up as well,” Maynard says. He cautions that such figures do not portend a return to euphoria. “It’s never going to get back to the 20% to 25% that you saw during the bubble,” he says of capex as a percentage of revenue, a relationship he calls “capex ­intensity.”

“Somewhere in the teens, depending on what the requirements are for the network, I think is a good range to work with for most of these Tier 1 companies,” he advises.

The report highlights three factors that will drive capex expansion: the desire to deliver triple-play services, which will affect the access, aggregation, and metro portions of the network over the next 2 years; the growth of Ethernet-based services, which will impel carriers to bring fiber closer to their customers as well as buy more equipment over the next 3 years; and the integration of fixed and wireless services for business and residential customers.

The drive to increase operational efficiencies (thereby lowering opex) and carrier consolidation will also affect the rate of capex and how carriers spend their money, the report says. The former influence will lead to greater acceptance of such technologies as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), as well as systems that promote flexibility and limit truck rolls, such as reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs), Maynard says. Carrier consolidation boosts capex because carriers have to spend money to integrate new assets with their existing infrastructure. Maynard expects carrier consolidation to be a significant influence over the next couple of years, but its influence will wane after that. “We’re running out of companies to pick up, at least in the U.S. market,” he comments.

Triple-play services will serve as the primary driver of capex, Maynard says. While that’s good news for makers of FTTX products, the rise of broadband to the home will have a ripple effect through the rest of the network.

“Capacity is going to continue to increase, so you’ll see a lot more metro DWDM systems in play-CWDM as well, as carriers are looking to ramp up that capacity,” Maynard comments. “And then you’ll also see interest in the ROADM capabilities out there that are being pushed by almost all of the major vendors, trying to make those optical networks more flexible as the capacity goes up.”

Carriers also have begun to plan upgrades to their long-haul networks, which will begin implementation at the same time. “You’re already hearing about carriers looking at 40 gig in the long haul, or trying to upgrade their long haul so they can reduce the number of regen huts or increase the protection available in their long-haul networks. I think those upgrades are going on currently, and they’ll continue. Is it going to be the main driver for pushing capex faster than revenue growth? I don’t see that happening in the 2- or 3-year timeframe we’re talking about.”

This 2-to-3-year window offers an opportunity that system houses can’t afford to miss, Maynard believes. “In terms of the transition underway, most of the carriers that we talked to are looking at the 2-to-3-year timeframe for making that transition in the core network or making that transition in their broadband aggregation network,” he explains. “It’s not so much that they’ll be completely done in the next 2 or 3 years; it’s more that they will lock in with their preferred vendors over the next 2 or 3 years. And if you’re not among the chosen, then you’re going to have a heck of time getting your revenues to grow or getting your foot in the door.”

The report looks at regional capex trends as well as global ones. For example, Maynard notes that within Asia Pacific, many companies will continue to spend significant amounts, but capex intensity should decrease. This trend will particularly hold true in China. “They’re making a transition from throwing as much money as they can at expansion to starting to worry about service quality or customer care or these more mundane issues of keeping and maintaining the customer base that they do have,” he notes.

In the EMEA region, the report notes that carriers in this part of the world managed to resist the hype that attended the bubble years; their capex levels didn’t rise as much as those of their compatriots in North America and Asia, and therefore didn’t fall as hard when the bubble burst. While the region’s capex situation has therefore been less volatile than others’, the Yankee Group expects a continued uptick in capex intensity. “I would say that it is going to continue to move up, and that it will continue to outpace the global average this year. Whether EMEA sneaks ahead of North America, I’m not sure exactly,” Maynard admits.

North American capex intensity has grown slightly faster than revenue since 2004, the report states. Financial stability and a need to upgrade legacy infrastructures account for this recovery-a recovery that should continue over the next few years. Because they have comparatively more work to do to upgrade their networks than their Western European brethren, North American carriers should keep up their capex intensity longer. In particular, FTTX deployments should remain strong.

Maynard says that Latin America will lag the rest of the world in capex intensity, although it should begin to rise as carriers there build new networks or upgrade existing ones.

More information on the report can be found on the Yankee Group web site (www.yankeegroup.com).

Stephen Hardy is the editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave.

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