Every time you bring up Facebook on your iPhone (s aapl) or fire-up the browser on your Samsung Galaxy S, you’re adding to the pressure on wireless networks. For makers of wireless networking hardware, that’s a good thing. In fact, for some companies like Alcatel-Lucent (s ALU), it’s the only bright spot in an increasingly dismal telecom world.
According to a new report from research firm In-Stat, mobile carriers are going to spend nearly $117 billion by 2014 (up 41 percent from 2009 spend of $83 billion) on “last mile backhaul (including line leasing, new equipment-spending, and spectrum acquisitions.”
According to well-regarded wireless analyst (and our friend and Mobilize speaker), Chetan Sharma, during the first half of 2010, average U.S. consumer was consuming 230 MB/month, up nearly 50 percent from the average data consumed in 2009. With nearly 31 percent of U.S. customers using smartphones, the demand for data is going to keep rising, so much so that in March 2010, data surpassed voice traffic on the mobile networks. In August, Ericsson (s ERIC) noted that mobile data grew 10 times faster than voice, and while mobile broadband accounts for only 10 percent of total mobile subscriptions, it’s growing at a rapid clip: about 225,000 terabytes per month.
Wireless last mile backhaul capacity in Western Europe will more than triple between 2010 and 2014, to nearly 60,000 Gbps. The pressure on the networks is only going increase with the launch of LTE-based wireless broadband networks. Nearly half the backhaul capacity in the U.S. is going to be dedicated to LTE, In-Stat projects. never mind the fast growth in the number of HSPA networks
Much of the spending is going to happen by running fiber to the base-stations, especially in the U.S., but microwave is going to see a big jump as well. In-Stat data projects that the sales of “millimeter microwave radios will grow from $159 million in 2009 to $874 million in 2014.”
The network upgrades are causing carriers to rethink their plans, and many of them are responding by ending unlimited data plans. Companies like AT&T (s T) have already moved in this direction.
So, who are the likely beneficiaries of this shift? Of course, it will be companies such as Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson, but there’s a slew of companies providing bandwidth that are going to do well because of this boom. For instance, the cable broadband providers are seeing strong demand from wireless carriers for their business-class broadband connections. Comcast (s CMCSA), Cox and Time Warner Cable (s TWC), in particular, have built strong business networks. The wireless backhaul boom is going to help companies such as Allied Fiber, whose main business is hawking dark fiber.
Related GigaOM Pro research: Metered Mobile Data Is Coming and Here’s How (sub req’d)