This reassurance is mostly for investors' benefit. Despite their financial difficulties, European mobile operators must and will concentrate the necessary resources on building 3G networks, so the infrastructure providers' revenues will not be hit. And even if the most pessimistic predictions for 3G uptake prove true, they have enough other interests to avoid being seriously wounded.
Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila and Ericsson president Kurt Hellstrom both told the Financial Times last night that demand for telecoms infrastructure is still strong, despite the financial difficulties some European mobile phone operators are currently facing. The announcement reflects the frequently expressed concern that in the depressed telecoms market, companies may not be able to raise sufficient capital quickly enough to roll out UMTS networks to their original schedules.
A cynic might note that Nokia and Ericsson have a strong incentive to point this out - their stock market valuations have not experienced the sharp falls that many other companies in telecommunications have suffered, and any belief that revenue growth would slow in the near future could damage them substantially. However, demand for their equipment is likely to stay high in future, for a variety of reasons.
First, a UMTS license is worthless unless it is generating revenue, and to do this the network must be built out. To make returns on their investment, mobile operators have to roll out networks as soon as they possibly can, irrespective of financial difficulties. This requirement could explain BT's recent sale of minority stakes in operators outside the UK and Germany - raising the funds to build out networks where it has acquired UMTS licenses is absolutely imperative.
To speed the process, the equipment manufacturers are offering innovative financial solutions for mobile operators. Indeed, this is viewed as a fundamental part of vendors' offerings. Since Nokia and Ericsson have better access to funds than many of the operators, they can afford to sell their network equipment on credit, to be paid back when it has started generating revenues. So even an operator that cannot raise enough cash will be able to roll out its network "on the tick". This, however, raises new problems for the equipment manufacturers - they are sharing the risk for 3G services. If the uptake of UMTS does not take off, this could impact Nokia and Ericsson.
So there is a little room for pessimism, but not very much. Many operators will be able to afford to pay upfront. Most observers are still optimistic about the long-term prospects of 3G services, and license costs are only extremely high in the UK and Germany. Furthermore, the majority of Nokia and Ericsson's business is not in building European 3G networks anyway. Only 53% of Ericsson's income and 40% of Nokia's comes from mobile infrastructure, and both companies are still strongly involved in building 2G networks in less developed markets such as the US and Africa. So even a worst-case scenario for 3G uptake would not damage Nokia and Ericsson too badly.