And now our usual disclosure: These companies are picked for their stories, not necessarily their stock performance. We do not make portfolio recommendations, and investors should always do their own research. What these finalists embody, we think, are some bright spots in the industry in that they have exhibited the kind of technology leadership and general competitive nature that positions them well for years to come.
Before we get into the profiles, just a reminder that you can see the full list of Leading Lights finalists here (free registration required).
The Leading Lights Awards and Light Reading Hall of Fame winners will be revealed on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at a gala dinner being held at the Hilton New York.
So, now to the Company of the Year (Public) finalists:
- 8x8 Inc. (Nasdaq: EGHT): 8x8 says the business case for hosted IP telephony and unified communications services is stronger than ever and, given the mobile and distributed nature of today's companies, we agree. This company in particular is profitable, has changed with the times and provides a unified communications service that doesn't rely on on-premises equipment or a proprietary network setup. We don't cover this area much, but it's about time we called out 8x8 for being a solid player.
- Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX): The Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) trend is really all about service providers finding ways to better understand their customers, explore new business models and differentiate themselves from competitors. Amdocs enables all three things, especially this year; it has made key product releases to help service provider customers turn up mobile networks and services more quickly and expand to newer markets.
- Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN): With its many ups and downs this year, Ciena's stock remains about flat. But as it enters its 20th year in business, we still think the company's technology and vision are among the best in the optical networking space. The flexibility of optical networks depends on an understanding of the control plane and Ciena has a solid story here, as it has shown this year.
- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO): A more shareholder-friendly Cisco got our attention this year for its acquisitions and strategic alliances that help it come up to speed and gain momentum in software-defined networking and network virtualization.
- CSG Systems International Inc. (Nasdaq: CSGS): CSG's revenue management portfolio has become a hit with service providers and investors are starting to take notice. The ability to provide up-selling and flexible accounts, and prevent mobile bill shock, are key charging and policy features that CSG has improved this year at a number of major service providers.
- Equinix Inc. (Nasdaq: EQIX): Where Ethernet and the cloud intersect we find Equinix, the data center and interconnection company that seems to have found a great story around turning Ethernet exchanges into a cloud ecosystem that can provide connections for everyone from Amazon.com to enterprises and service providers. And when everyone uses you to connect, everyone pays you too.
- F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV): Service provider networks can stand out by providing better application delivery and security, two areas where F5 is a solid choice. We see Cisco's recent decision to team with Citrix to fight F5 in the application delivery controller (ADC) market nothing more than validation that F5 is having a fantastic year.
- NetScout Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: NTCT): The network performance management specialists at NetScout have wide appeal with big enterprises, but we like them because they've been digging in with mobile operators upgrading to all-IP 4G networks. The upgraded networks require a level of performance monitoring that only a company hardened by huge, demanding corporate customers can provide. In the past 12 months, while the enterprise market was dinged by the economy, the service provider network monitoring and performance space started to take off, more than making up for any lost ground.
- Procera Networks : Policy management and deep packet inspection remains a necessity as service provider networks evolve. There are a lot of viable competitors in this space but Procera has seen its stock climb more than 70 percent this year after seeing its revenues climb more than 100 percent from 2010 to 2011. Cable networks, rural wireless service providers and European Tier 1s are among Procera's 2012 new customer list and that continued momentum in a hot, competitive sector lands them on this list.
- tw telecom inc. (Nasdaq: TWTC): Again we marvel at how well tw telecom does at blocking and tackling in the Ethernet and data services market. By selling to enterprises directly and wholesaling services to other carriers, tw doesn't need a 4G network or new smartphone to provide a compelling growth story. Fifty percent of the company's revenues now come from Ethernet and VPN-related products. With 31 consecutive quarters of revenue growth, the question is not whether tw will be on this list next year, but whether it will be acquired by a bigger carrier that wants a growing fiber network and a well-run business.
— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading