Unicom Plans Capex Blowout

Mobile operator China Unicom Ltd. (NYSE: CHU) has set the pulses of the world's mobile infrastructure vendors racing with the news that it expects to spend up to 100 billion Renminbi (US$14.6 billion) on wireless infrastructure once the merger of its GSM business with China Netcom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CN; Hong Kong: 0906) is completed and 3G licenses have been awarded. (See China Begins $70B Carrier Revamp and China to Get 3G – At Last!)

In a 51-page document filed with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Unicom noted: "Upon the completion of the proposed merger, the Enlarged Group is expected to obtain a 3G licence [sic]. As a result of the proposed merger, the wireless capital expenditure of the Enlarged Group is expected to be very substantial and may reach RMB100 billion in 2009 and 2010."

News of that potential capex splurge follows China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA)'s announcement a few weeks ago that, following its acquisition of China Unicom's CDMA business, it intends to invest RMB80 billion ($11.7 billion) in the expansion of the CDMA network in the first three years of ownership, which is expected to come into effect on Oct. 1 this year. (See China Telecom Unveils CDMA Plans.)

With planned mobile network investments of $26.3 billion announced by two of China's three giant carriers, that just leaves the biggest mobile operator of them all, China Mobile Communications Corp. , to outline its 3G investment plans.

China Mobile has 415 million GSM subscribers, while Unicom has 128 million GSM customers and 43.2 million CDMA subscribers.

The planned investments spell good news for domestic vendors Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763), as well as international players Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), Nortel Networks Ltd. , and Nokia Networks , though it's likely the infrastructure deals awarded will put pressure on the suppliers' product margins.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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