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Counting the cost: How chip shortages are affecting telecom companies

The ongoing global chip shortage is affecting industries ranging from automobiles to video games. And the telecom industry has not been left out.

"I'm a little skittish," AT&T CEO John Stankey said of the shortages. "I mean, we're seeing dynamics that are occurring in the global supply chain where unexpected things are popping up. And it is possible that we could see certain element shortages that start to crop up as everybody is racing to put stuff up on [cell] towers in May. And that's why I want to be a little bit cautious."

Other executives though said they have not yet seen any effects at all.

"We're seeing no supply issues and we're forecasting no supply issues on either network gear or smartphones," said T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert.

Meanwhile, vendors are fighting to make sure they have the supplies they need to continue to meet demand.

"There were shortages of supply and we obviously chased it, and you just basically put more money on the table and you get the necessary products you need," said Viavi CEO Oleg Khaykin, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his comments. "We were able to meet all our customer demands and not miss any of our deliveries."

Apple executives too said they struggled to meet record demand. "We did not have a material supply shortage," said Apple CEO Tim Cook of the company's most recent, blockbuster quarter. Seeking Alpha provided a transcript of his comments. "And so how are we able to do that? You wind up collapsing all of your buffers and offsets. And that happens all the way through the supply chain. And so that enables you to go a bit higher than what we were expecting to sell when we went into the quarter 90 days ago."

However, Apple doesn't believe it can pull the same trick during its current quarter. The company warned it expects to lose between $3 billion and $4 billion due to the shortages in its quarter that ends in June.

Apple isn't alone.

Here are the companies in the telecom industry that reported financial effects from the situation, and exactly what they said about those effects.

Table 1: Telecom and the global chipset shortage

Company What they said
Apple Expects to lose between $3 billion and $4 billion in revenues in its current quarter.
Ceragon Expects a "negative impact on the timeliness" of its second quarter deliveries, and a "push of revenues" until it's resolved.
Infinera Lost $15 million to $20 million in revenues in the first quarter, and expects to lose $20 million to $25 million in the second quarter.
National Instruments Reported that bookings grew 19% year-over-year, but that revenue grew just 9% over the same period, and blamed the difference on a buildup in its backlog due to the shortages.
Neophotonics Lost millions of dollars in revenues, but didn't provide a specific figure beyond the range of "low- to mid-single-digits."
Qualcomm Lost a "very significant number" in revenues, but did not provide specifics.
Samsung Expects revenue to decrease in the current quarter, but did not provide details.
Source: Company reports, Seeking Alpha

Of course, shortages in components might not ultimately affect a vendor's bottom line. The analysts at Counterpoint Research noted that some companies might decide to pass the hit on down the line.

"Semiconductor shortages have affected the overall supply landscape and increased the lead times of chipset solutions for major vendors. However, we see these vendors looking to diversify their foundry strategy to alleviate chipset shortages in the second half of this year," explained Tarun Pathak, a research director at the firm, in a statement. "These shortages might push specific component prices up by 5-10% and OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] will look to absorb these cost increases by being creative with the bill of materials (BoM) and in some cases might even pass the added costs to the consumers."

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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