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Leading Lights Finalists 2014: Company of the Year (Public)

Ray Le Maistre

To excel is hard enough in the telecom sector, but to do so under the constant scrutiny of investors and financial analysts is even harder, which is why winning the Company of the Year (Public) award is so tough. The stars must be aligned.

This category is about identifying the listed companies that stand out from the crowd, develop and communicate a strategy that benefits customers, partners, employees and investors alike, and then acts on that strategy. That's a tough set of criteria.

We announced the identities of the shortlisted companies earlier: Keep in mind that the time period covered by this year's awards submissions was April 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014, so anything that happened since was not taken into consideration in the judging process. (See Leading Lights 2014: The Finalists.)

Now here's why those five firms that made the Company of the Year (Public) shortlist were chosen (in alphabetical order).

Ciena Corp.
For quite some time, Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) CEO Gary Smith had been asking for patience from the markets, saying that Ciena was well placed to benefit from the expected demand for next-generation transport infrastructure that was anticipated.

The past year will have seen Smith feeling happy with his past predictions, and quite confident too that Ciena, with its OPn architecture, is indeed well placed for what's to come next.

OPn, which comprises converged packet-optical systems, packet networking, and software, "facilitates the migration to open and programmable network architectures," notes the company, and "guides Ciena's product strategy, development and advocacy to customers and the market."

That's also linked, of course, to the broader industry developments around SDN, which is also one of the catalysts for Ciena's partnership with mobile broadband and managed services market leader Ericsson, announced earlier this year.

Ciena is confident that its revenues and margins will improve in the coming year as it expects to increase its market share and grow faster than the overall market.

And in the year under scrutiny in these awards, Ciena's share price reflected its overall trajectory, increasing from $16.01 at the end of March 2013 to $22.74 at the end of March this year.

Infinera Corp.
Increasing demand for transport network solutions is also good news for Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN), which has been making positive headway in the 100G long-haul market with its flagship DTN-X platform -- so much so that it could claim market leadership status, if certain criteria are applied.

What's clear, though, is that the company has shifted up a gear, and the reputation it has built for delivering reliable optical transport systems that are easy and quick to deploy, and then just as quick to put into commercial action, is paying off.

That doesn't mean Infinera gets everything its own way. It had long been tipped to make a breakthrough at Verizon, but lost out in the final reckoning. What's key, though, is that while Verizon would have been a landmark customer, Infinera's business has not suffered as a result of that isolated setback. It has more than 40 customers for the DTN-X and boasts a broad customer portfolio, both geographically and by sector -- it has "15 Tier 1 customers, 4 of the top 5 cable operators, and 3 of the top 4 Internet Content Providers" on its books, it says in its submission.

The company's revenues are on the rise, expectations in the market are positive for further growth, and the company saw its stock head in the right direction during the "Leading Lights year," advancing by about 28% year-on-year to end March 2013 at $8.95.

Mavenir Systems Inc.
Mobile data service platform specialist Mavenir Systems Inc. qualified for this category courtesy of its IPO in November 2013. The company is pitching its cloud-based mOne Convergence Platform to mobile operators looking to enhance their services portfolio with applications such as VoLTE, and at the end of 2013 mOne was deployed at three of the top five US mobile operators and nine of the top 20 globally. One of those deployments is at MetroPCS, which in 2012 launched the first commercially available VoLTE service using Mavenir's platform.

In the past year, the company has been adding to its virtual capabilities with a string of launches, including a virtualized SBC and evolved packet core (EPC).

The company is growing its revenues impressively -- its revenues for the first quarter of 2014 were up by 28% year-on-year to $28.7 million -- and its share price rose from its IPO price of $10.00 to hit $17.90 at the end of March.

Redknee Inc.
Canadian BSS specialist Redknee Inc. (Toronto/London AIM: RKN) isn't the company it used to be. For years it was a telecom software minnow, winning business and keeping afloat, but never likely to trouble the big guns.

Now that's changed. Following the acquisition of NSN's BSS business, Redknee has transformed itself from a company with annual revenues of about $60 million into a telecom software and services firm with more than 200 customers and annualized revenues of almost $300 million. And its ambitious CEO Lucas Skoczkowski has his eyes on making Redknee a $1 billion-per-year turnover company.

Its share price has reflected its enhanced status and prospects, growing 78% year-on-year to $5.52 at the end of March this year.

tw telecom inc.
One of the success stories of the North American data services sector, tw telecom inc. (Nasdaq: TWTC) has grown in recent years to become one of the most valuable, and sought-after, properties in the Ethernet services market. That much was proven when Level 3 announced its planned $5.7 billion acquisition of the operator on June 16.

Beyond that high-profile move, tw telecom usually makes the headlines for the right reasons, whether for being an outstanding employer, delivering enviable customer service, or launching innovative services such as Alerts Driven Dynamic Capacity.

The operator has grown its top-line revenues for the past nine years, reporting sales of $1.56 billion in 2013, and from early April 2013 to the close of March 2014 the company's stock appreciated by more than 21% March 28, 2013 to $30.59. Now, of course, the Level 3 deal has driven it much closer to the $40 mark.

The Leading Lights winners and 2014 Hall of Fame inductees will be unveiled at the Leading Lights awards dinner, to be held the evening of Tuesday, June 17 at Chicago's Adler Planetarium. (For more details, see Bumper Year for the Leading Lights Awards.)

Stick around on Wednesday for the second day of Light Reading's Big Telecom Event, taking place at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers on June 17-18. (Details and the agenda are on our show site, Big Telecom Event.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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