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Airespace Creates Turbulence

In the wake of Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) planned $450 million acquisition of wireless LAN switch firm Airespace Inc., the startup's closest rivals -- Aruba Wireless Networks and Trapeze Networks Inc. -- are rumored to be in a "horse race" to partner up with incumbents or maybe even find a buyer, according to sources.

While other wireless technology startups like Colubris Networks Inc. could also feel the affect of the acquisition. Aruba is being linked with networking giant Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) by some. One source even tells Unstrung that Juniper has made an offer of $210 million for the firm, but that Aruba is looking for more moolah than that.

Juniper hasn't yet returned calls for comment.

Analysts have long wondered about Juniper's corporate wireless LAN strategy, especially following the firm's acquisition of enterprise security firm NetScreen. Aruba could actually prove to be a complementary buy in this sector, with its increasing focus on wired and wireless enterprise network security (see Juniper's Wireless Hole).

But Aruba's flambuoyant communications director, David Callisch, refused to comment on the rumor, except to say that the firm isn't plotting "an acquisition-based exit strategy." Another source says that Aruba is currently casting its net wide for potential technology partners. "I'm hearing they're all over town right now," says a source.

Airespace's current lineup of OEM partners could turn out to be lucrative bedfellows for Aruba, Colubris or Trapeze, especially now that Cisco's acquisition has helped to put a dollar value on the market. Airespace has said that the deals with Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701), and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) are currently "under discussion." (See Cisco's Airespace Program.) But it seems unlikely that any of these incumbents will want to rebadge products from their largest rival.

"I think there's going to be a horse race between those two," says a wireless whisperer.

"We're open to partnerships, but they've got to be beneficial to us," says Aruba's birthday boy Callisch, while declining to name any of the potential suitors the firm might be talking to.

Trapeze has been somewhat overshadowed by Airespace and Aruba recently, but we will likely see more of it this year. Trapeze's partnership with 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS) is now kicking in, and the firm is rumored to have just closed another round of venture funding.

Trapeze hadn't returned calls for comment by press time.

Colubris could be the wild card in this particular pack. The firm, which makes access points and controllers, has been partnered with Juniper for over a year, delivering a wireless frontend for the firm's B-RAS system.

Colubris's PR director Bob Olson doesn't have any comment on potential partnerships but notes: "The purchase of Airespace by Cisco is creating a lot of disturbance in the market and creating some interesting opportunities." — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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