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Vendor Price Gaps: A Thing of the Past?

Major suppliers say there's little to choose between the main rivals these days in terms of system prices

November 18, 2010

3 Min Read
Vendor Price Gaps: A Thing of the Past?

HONG KONG -- Mobile Asia Congress 2010 -- The telecom infrastructure price chasm that existed between the traditional equipment vendors (from Europe and North America) and their new challengers from China has narrowed considerably, according to Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , one of the combative players from the Far East.

It's maybe not surprising that Huawei would claim that, but the statement is backed up by a senior executive from one of those traditional vendors, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU).

Here in Hong Kong, Huawei's VP of wireless marketing, Lars Bondelind, noted during an interview with Light Reading Asia that carriers (as ever) are always looking for ways to cut their costs, but aiming to do that just by sourcing cut-price systems isn't so easy anymore now that the major vendors "are on quite an equal footing" in terms of pricing.

Instead, mobile operators are looking at strategies involving RAN (radio access network) sharing and figuring out ways to better utilize their spectrum in order to cut their capital and operating expenditures.

So after years of complaints from traditional (Western) vendors large and small that Huawei and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) have distorted the market with loss-leading undercutting, have we now reached a position of near price parity?

Apart from the odd market niche, that's pretty much the case, confirms AlcaLu Asia-Pacific president Rajeev Singh-Molares, talking with Light Reading Asia on the sidelines of the conference here. "To a greater extent, yes, the gap has closed," he says. "This is a very, very competitive market."

Singh-Molares adds, though, that AlcaLu's proposition is not based on price, but on producing quality products that deliver real value to operator customers.

While it may be true that in general terms there is greater price parity these days, that doesn't mean there aren't still exceptions that lead to accusations of "dumping" against the Chinese vendors.

Such claims arose late last year in India, where transport vendor Tejas Networks India Ltd. complained about Huawei's marketing tactics, while both main Chinese vendors came under fire more recently in Europe regarding the price of mobile broadband dongles. (See Will EC Probe Huawei, ZTE?)

The European issue was resolved in a somewhat unusual fashion… (See Option Drops Complaints Against Huawei and Huawei, Option Sign Agreement.)

In addition, Light Reading Asia has also heard of GPON ONT prices set at below US$30 in China by local producers, effectively pricing imports out of the market.

Such instances, though, seem to be more the exception than the rule these days, though only because the traditional vendors have had to cut their prices quite drastically in the past few years, a move that has squeezed their top and bottom lines, and led to painful cost-cutting measures made worse by the recent global economic downturn.

The market adjustments and new competitive environment have also led to some "crazy" prices. Singh-Molares points to the recent scramble to win initial 3G equipment deals in India as an example of a highly charged competitive environment where prices in some instances sunk to very low levels. (See India's 3G Equipment Market a 'Bloodbath' and India's 3G Auction Ends, Raises $14.6B.)

Notably, AlcaLu didn't land any 3G deals in the recent round of awards, but Singh-Molares says there's more 3G action to come in India, citing potential expansion awards from state-owned operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) as a potential opening for his company. (See Ericsson's India Crown Under Threat.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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