Optical/IP Networks

Analysts Dismiss Ericsson/Juniper Talk

Someone's anxious for Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) to pull off a big deal. Whether that's Juniper or Wall Street, no one knows.

Either way, the Juniper deal rumors continue to fly, the latest being a theory that Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) might pick up the router company.

The plausibility hook would be that Ericsson has been reselling Juniper gear since 2000. (See Juniper, Ericsson Enter Joint Venture.) Analysts shrugged off the suggestion, though.

"Although Juniper's IP router products would enhance Ericsson's next-generation networks and IPTV offering, our industry checks suggest such a deal is unlikely near-term," UBS AG analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos wrote in a note yesterday. He added that Ericsson management doesn't seem keen on any big acquisitions right now.

The likelihood of the deal "seems pretty small, in my opinion," says Tim Daubenspeck, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities Inc. "The multiple you'd have to pay to buy Juniper makes it a pretty expensive acquisition for anyone." (Juniper's valuation is roughly $11 billion, compared with Ericsson's $58 billion.)

Ericsson is certainly interested in beefing up wireline assets, as demonstrated in its recent acquisition of Marconi. (See Ericsson Buys Bulk of Marconi.) But Ericsson's strategy remains unclear; it seems a bit early to make as complex a buy as Juniper, Daubenspeck says. Moreover, the deal would create all kinds of lovely conflict with Juniper's other partners, including Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE).

This won't be the last big rumor to make the rounds. Consolidation among equipment vendors hasn't happened at the same pace as consolidation among carriers, and there's a general sense among investors and executives that some two companies are likely to tie the knot soon. "Everyone's been talking to everyone for a long time," Daubenspeck says.

Juniper has been a magnet for these rumors, most of which concern Juniper acquiring an Ethernet player such as Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), Force10 Networks Inc. , or Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY). No deal has surfaced to date, although sources say Juniper gave the idea serious consideration. (See Juniper's Extreme Thoughts Are Back and Extreme Thoughts.)

The sense on Wall Street is that Juniper needs to do something big. Its router business is steady but isn't going to lift the stock price, a problem Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is keenly aware of. And some have doubts about Juniper's ability to charge into the enterprise, Cisco's home turf.

Juniper officials say they're making headway in expanding the company's markets, though. The company has a 30 share of the high-end enterprise market, up from zero the previous year, according to Synergy Research Group Inc. And CEO Scott Kriens has stuck to the mantra of traffic engineering, saying Juniper's acquisitions would have to target that function within the network. (See Juniper Looks Beyond IPTV.)

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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