This week's mega-merger between Alcatel and Lucent Technologies will create a telecom equipment giant with an unmatched customer footprint in the telco and wireless carrier segments. While the combined Alcatel-Lucent will generate $25 billion in annual revenue, the colossus will be decidedly weak in a key market segment: cable.
Through its purchase of Scientific-Atlanta, Cisco Systems is now the undisputed cable kingpin. And where Lucent has tried and failed for years to make a major splash in cable, Nortel has succeeded handsomely selling Class 5 switches, IP telephony and metro optical infrastructure to MSOs. Even Siemens has made inroads with its PacketCable VoIP solution.
Will Alcatel-Lucent remain content to operate as a cable also-ran? Not likely. But what to do about it? The obvious answer is to acquire and there are two solid choices. Plan A: snatch up BigBand Networks before it goes public. BigBand's CMTS and video switching infrastructure would help Alcatel-Lucent gain a foothold in the heart of MSO networks. BigBand's video products would also play well with the giant's telco customers moving into video. Plan B is an 'assemblage.' Acquire ARRIS, the top supplier of E-MTAs and a stronger player than BigBand in the DOCSIS CMTS segment. And, scoop up Terayon, a solid video-only play now smarting after its NASDAQ delisting. Or, if Terayon's accounting mishaps create too much uncertainty, consider start-up RGB Networks or Tandberg on the heels of its Skystream acquisition.
Alca-cent may argue it can successfully partner to address the cable market. Maybe Motorola is game to find a bigger buddy in its battle against Cisco and S-A, despite its announced alliance with Juniper in cable. Not likely though, given their rivalry with Alca-cent in wireless. Anyway, cable alliances have proven easy to announce and difficult to execute. Cisco built its cable beachhead in the trenches, starting with its first-generation CMTS product, and leveraging that platform to sell core routers, optical gear and VoIP solutions to MSOs. There are no shortcuts. With a real cable access play to round out its portfolio, Alca-cent could assemble a formidable offering for MSOs, including its IPTV, edge routing and IMS solutions. The question is whether the giant has the courage, or available attention span, to make a bold, quick leap into cable.