Infonetics chartThanks in part to a surge in router purchases in China, the global mobile equipment market grew by 8 percent to $7.4 billion last year, which followed on the heels of a 10 percent increase the previous year, according to a recent report by Infonetics Research.

“The nice bump up in the mobile backhaul market in 2011 was due in large part to a surge in Ethernet mobile backhaul router purchases in China,” said Michael Howard, principal analyst and co-founder of Infonetics Research. “We expect the China surge to subside in 2012, impacting the overall market; then slow, steady growth in this already-large market should resume in 2013.”

Richard Webb,directing analyst for microwave at Infonetics, said that roughly 55 percent of the world’s mobile backhaul physical connections were on microwave, and more than half of all mobile backhaul equipment revenue in 2011 came from dual TDM/Ethernet microwave and packet-only microwave equipment combined.

For the year, Ericsson maintained its lead in the mobile backhaul microwave radio market with 22 percent of global revenue, while Huawei took the lead in quarterly revenue for the first time in the fourth quarter of last year.

Infonetics’ research said that Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Huawei, Tellabs and ZTE led the fast-growing Ethernet mobile backhaul routers and gateways segment.

IP/Ethernet equipment made up more than 90 percent of all mobile backhaul equipment spending, driven by operators looking to lower mobile data traffic costs, accommodate the 3G mobile broadband data transition, and move to IP as the basic technology of LTE and WiMAX.

Overall, about 150 mobile operators were actively deploying IP/Ethernet backhaul, up from 100 in 2010 and 25 in 2009.

Looking ahead, Infonetics Research’s report forecast that a cumulative $39 billion will be spent on mobile backhaul equipment over the next five years.