Wireline Broadband network providers take largest slice of IT infrastructure pie in 2011

U.S.-based wireline-broadband network providers last year accounted for 41% of the $66 billion spent on information infrastructure in the U.S., while wireless carriers kicked in 40% of the total, according to a report by USTelecom. The other 19% came from cable operators (AKA MSOs).  This information is contained in the research brief: Updated Capital Spending Data Show Continued Significant Broadband Investment in Nation’s Information Infrastructure.”


2011 capital expenditures for the industry as a whole—including wireline, wireless, and cable operators—were approximately $66 billion, roughly the same as 2010.  Furthermore, the data show that broadband providers have made nearly $1.2 trillion in capital investments from 1996 through 2011.

Although the overall investment level has not changed much in the last year, the amount of data traffic that networks carry has increased dramatically– from the equivalent of 8.3 million DVDs per month in 2000 to the equivalent of more than 1.4 billion DVDs per month in 2010, USTelecom said. The association expects traffic levels to triple again over the next five years.

The largest driver of bandwidth demand in 2010 and 2011 was consumer video over fixed networks, representing more than two-thirds of U.S. data traffic in 2010 and approaching three-quarters in the next five years, said USTelecom.

According to the USTelecom research, 96% of Americans now have access to fixed broadband, up 1% since 2010. Researchers also noted that 80% of U.S. households have at least two broadband providers from which to choose.  The research brief does not indicate how researchers defined broadband.

It appears that some of USTelecom’s landline carriers may be feeling overshadowed by wireless carriers, which have garnered much of consumers’ attention in recent years. “Nearly all of U.S. wireless data traffic, the fastest growing data traffic segment, utilizes fixed network connections,” the research brief notes. “Fixed backhaul connections link cell towers to the network and, increasingly, mobile data traffic is offloaded onto Wi-Fi enabled fixed network connections via dual-mode Wi-Fi cellular devices in order to alleviate mobile network capacity limitations.”


Separately, AT&T reported that it netted 718,000 U-verse broadband and 200,000 TV customers in the first quarter. Broadband users signed up for faster service in greater numbers than a year ago with 45% opting for speeds of at least 6 Mbps. Overall, AT&T exceeded analysts’ estimates in the first quarter on a 5.2% increase in net profit due largely to higher wireless data service revenue. 

But the U.S. cellular market is nearing saturation after a growth spurt fueled by sales of the iPhone last year. Wireless penetration in the U.S. is 105 percent when including mobile devices like tablet computers, said Bob Roche, a statistician with CTIA, a wireless-industry trade group.

The slowing market is forcing AT&T into more intense competition with Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S), with the carriers fighting over a shrinking pool of people who don’t yet have mobile phones. They’re also trying to get customers to upgrade to smartphones such as the iPhone that let users browse the Web and stream video.