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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

China's Growing Telecom Clout

The nascent China Teelecom industry is making its presence felt in Geneva:

China's leading telecommunications equipment makers are taking to the global stage in every sense. The ambition of Huawei and ZTE to expand internationally on the back of their success in a growing domestic market was displayed in the sizes of their stands at last week's ITU Telecom World 2003 in Geneva, the quadrennial showcase for the big telecoms companies. Measured by floor space, Huawei and ZTE could argue they were bigger global equipment players than Cisco Systems and Alcatel. Both stands beat Cisco's in size and scope, while France's Alcatel, which spent E14m ($16.3m) on its booth last time at Telecom World 1999, was nowhere to be seen, saying it could no longer justify the expense.

The dominance of Asian displays - including a three-storey tower block that took Samsung five weeks to erect - was seen as a clear message from the region that it had arrived as a telecoms powerhouse. In spite of a recession that has seen many European and American equipment makers and carriers go to the wall over the past four years, their Asian counterparts have survived and thrived. "We have the largest stand in the whole China booth at 526 square metres," said Richard Lee, Huawei's international advertising and promotions manager. "The Geneva show really helps us to build up our brand, not only in Europe but globally."

Until now, Huawei has been known outside Asia more for a patent row with Cisco than for its network equipment. "Cisco [litigation] did not slow us down. We withdrew our products in the US and now both sides have decided to stay litigation," said Mr Lee. With 2002 revenues of $2.7bn, Huawei figures in 16th place in Gartner's global top 20 of equipment makers - well behind number one Nokia on $28.3bn, Cisco at $19.2bn and Alcatel at $13.2bn. But expected 2003 revenues of $3.5bn should lift it above companies such as Panasonic and a restructured Marconi - another no-show in Geneva following its huge display four years ago. Much of Huawei's growth has been fuelled by its home market where a nation of 1.3bn people is quickly taking to mobile telephony and the internet, while fixed-line phone access is being extended in rural areas.

China is already the world's largest telecommunications market by subscribers, yet teledensity - the number of telephones in use for every 100 people - is still fewer than 40, compared with 50-70 in Europe. Spending on networks is expected to increase in China in 2004, according to International Data Corp, the research firm. China's telecoms companies are spending on their networks in the high 20s as a percentage of revenues, compared with an industry average of 10 per cent.

IDC predicted last week that China would account for 48 per cent - or $15.8bn - of the region's spending on network equipment compared with an estimated 44 per cent share in 2003. The figures excluded Japan. ZTE has enjoyed success selling to developing countries such as Nigeria, India and Zambia, as well as in its home market. Shi Lirong, vice-president, told a news conference in Geneva the company was earning 25 per cent of its revenues overseas and aimed to double this to 50 per cent by 2008, when it expected annual sales of $10bn. It is just behind Huawei in Gartner's league table with $1.4bn in revenues last year.

Both Huawei and ZTE insist their success is built on the quality of their products and research and development as much as the lower costs of labour and manufacturing in China. Huawei has research centres in Silicon Valley, Stockholm, Dallas and Moscow, as well as in China, where it is developing a 3G standard - TD-SCDMA - in partnership with Siemens. It was also number two behind Alcatel in the last quarter in the world market for DSL broadband equipment, while ZTE was promoting its "end-to-end solutions" for mobile networks at the show. "Huawei and ZTE are now spending a lot on R&D and are punching above their weight there," says Dean Eyers, worldwide director of telecoms at the Gartner research firm. "A lot of their focus has been on price and they are not ahead of the innovation curve at this phase. But [Geneva] has put them on the radar screen and they absolutely could have an impact on a global scale."
Source: Financial Times

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