Survey: North American mobile networks at 80 pct capacity

Credit Suisse HQ (New York)

North American mobile operators have for years been complaining about the impacts heavy data users and network congestion, and have repeatedly revised their service plans and data offerings to encourage mobile users to snarf less data over 3G and 4G connections—to the point where only one carrier (Sprint) offers unlimited data service. It turns out carriers might have something to complain about: a new survey from investment bank Credit Suisse finds that mobile networks in North America are running at about 80 percent capacity, with more than a third of base stations facing significant capacity constraints. The figures are far above the global average of 65 percent utilization on mobile networks worldwide—and significantly higher than the 72 percent utilization North American networks were seeing just two years ago.

The Credit-Suisse report is compiled as an indicator of future sales from mobile telecom gear makers like Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Siemens Networks, and Ericsson. And, at least in the near-term, the future is looking bright for those companies, as mobile operators struggle to expand their capacity to retain customers and embrace new mobile technologies.

North America isn’t the only region seeing significant growth: two years ago, Asia’s mobile networks were running at an average of 54 percent utilization, and that’s jumped to 62 percent in 2011. The report also forecasts that Latin America’s mobile network utilization will ready 85 percent within a year.

However, Western Europe—one of the world’s most mobile-saturated regions—is actually seeing network conditions become less constrained, dropping from 66 percent capacity to 56 percent capacity in the last two years.

The report notes that mobile data services are one of the primary driving factors in mobile network usage, but they’re also responsible for most of the per-subscriber revenue growth mobile operators have been seeing. Credit-Suisse forecasts that worldwide data revenue collected by mobile operators will increase by 11.7 percent in 2011, while voice and SMS revenue will decline by 4.4 and 3.3 percent, respectively.

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