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ALU + NSN: A Reality Check

It might look good on paper, but a merger of Alcatel-Lucent and NSN would be a match made in a madhouse.

September 26, 2013

3 Min Read
ALU + NSN: A Reality Check

Investors are getting excited, it seems, about the prospect of a merger between Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN) following media reports that the idea was being discussed at NSN's headquarters.

While the reports also stressed that no formal talks had taken place, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s share price jumped more than 5 percent Thursday morning to €2.67.

Yet the people who should be most excited about this speculation are the folks at Cisco Systems Inc., Ericsson AB, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., and the other major vendors that compete with both AlcaLu and NSN.

There's no doubt that a merger of Alcatel-Lucent and NSN could look good on paper. Combining NSN's professional services, mobile broadband infrastructure portfolio, and customer experience management (CEM) developments with AlcaLu's IP, optical, cloud/SDN (think Nuage Networks and Cloudband), fixed broadband, and professional services could make for a powerful combination -- AlcaLu's lightRadio radio access work could even play a role in a combined portfolio for 4G LTE and beyond. And both have significant customer bases and global operations that would make for an industry powerhouse, while the combination of the two companies could drive a lot of operational efficiencies.

Sounds good doesn't it? Maybe it's not surprising that investors are getting moist.

But hold on a minute -- it's time for a reality check.

Both companies nearly killed themselves with their previous mergers. The combination of Alcatel and Lucent turned somewhat toxic internally and the resulting company has largely been kept alive by the IP division. Without Basil Alwan's crew, one could argue that AlcaLu might not even be around in 2013 to be dragged into the M&A gossip I'm writing about here. (See TiMetra at Heart of AlcaLu's Shift.)

AlcaLu is still in the early stages of dragging itself out of the financial mire and has quite a way to go before it can be regarded as fiscally secure. (See Alcatel-Lucent Unveils Shift Plan and Alcatel-Lucent Builds Future Around IP.)

NSN has been on the same sort of journey. The combination of the network infrastructure and services businesses of Nokia and Siemens created an unmanageable behemoth that nearly crushed itself. A turnaround plan that was instigated in late 2011 came just in time, though at a massive cost in terms of money and jobs. In fact, the recovery has been so strong that Nokia has taken full ownership of NSN and is selling its mobile device crown jewels. (See Nokia Sells Devices Business to Microsoft , NSN Becomes NSN and Has NSN Turned a Corner?.)

Both companies, then, have just managed to survive their previous mega-mergers and have only recently come off corporate life-support machines (AlcaLu is still being monitored, actually). And now there's talk of kick-starting a similar process? Do me a favor…

I can understand the excitement around the idea of "Alcanok." (Got a better name? Please share on the message boards.) But it's a move that could cause customer confusion and uncertainty, result in years of operational mire, create a cultural clash that could be ugly to watch and effectively hand even greater market power to the likes of Cisco, Ericsson, and Huawei.

My advice? Don't do it.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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