Chinese operators have been spending heavily on both fixed and wireless network rollouts over the past multiple years, but Synergy Research Group expects capex to peak this year.
The research firm forecasts that operators will spend around 293 billion yuan ($47.52 billion) on network capex in 2013.
Total expected capex is equivalent to 27% of projected combined service revenues - up from 25% in 2012, when total network capex reached 252 billion yuan.
Growth this year will be driven by an expected jump in LTE rollout spending by China Mobile, as the company prepares to launch commercial TD-LTE services.
But spending is expected to fall to around 24% of total revenues in 2014, and continue declining until it dips below 20% in 2017.
The big three operators are expected to continue spending heavily on mobile infrastructure for the rest of the forecast period, Synergy said, but fixed broadband investment will tail off.
“Once we get beyond 2013 network capex as a percent of revenues will trend downwards towards more normal levels found in well-developed markets,” Synergy managing director John Dinsdale said.
“This will present some big challenges for equipment vendors who have based their growth plans around continued expansion in Chinese network spending.”