8:00 AM -- When looking over this category of Light Reading's 2010 Leading Lights Finalists, it's tough to compare so many companies in a sector. But when you start looking at which companies are growing, which are managed well, which have interesting and (sometimes) world-beating technology, the list narrows considerably.
Acme Packet Inc. (Nasdaq: APKT) -- We could say Acme Packet is in the right place at the right time. Convergence is occurring in every major network, as more communications are IP-based sessions, so it stands to reason a session border controller specialist would flourish. Even against that backdrop, Acme Packet is doing what a network specialist does best -- growing steadily and thriving in the shadow of larger, better-funded competitors.
Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) -- Adtran has what similarly sized competitors lack: Tier 1 carrier staying power, with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and Qwest/CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) as its top accounts. It has always been a solid company with little debt and a strong balance sheet. But this year was really the year that its Total Access 5000 took hold in the market and showed some teeth, just as the Broadband Stimulus funds are starting to flow.
Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) -- Apple is special because it defines new categories of mobile computing devices, supports those devices with network-based services that are easy to understand and use, then sets the mobile computing agenda for the rest of the industry for the next 12 to 18 months. Did anyone care about tablets until the iPad? Does anyone else think that a FaceTime call over a couple of iPod Touch devices is exactly what wireless carrier execs see in their worst nightmares?
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) -- Again, we come to a company that is helping to set the agenda in the communications space. We particularly like how Cisco in 2010 has ramped up its TelePresence efforts, made home networking more functional, and tied it all together with massive routing power at the network's core. As ever, we can't forget the Starent acquisition. Our tests show pretty clearly that Cisco may not be all things to all carriers, but it certainly knows where to shop.
Finisar Corp. (Nasdaq: FNSR) -- This year Finisar kept its promise to Wall Street to cut costs, and it is keeping its products at a high enough level to consistently challenge sector leader JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU). In the up-and-down world of optical components and subsystems, Finisar stands out as a well run company that hasn't lost its tech edge.
Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) -- Depending on whether you look at its year-to-date performance or its 12-month chart, Infinera is up anywhere from 30 to 40 percent in 2010, and its revenues are on a steady, if unspectacular, growth curve. The market is clearly reacting to the company's ability to keep adding customers and to keep making progress in optical transport areas such as subsea, where there are only a handful of buyers. We've always liked Infinera's tech leadership, and we think the company has taken a big step forward this year in going from a competitive upstart to the vendor to beat.
MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) -- We're wondering if MetroPCS should change its name to MetroLTE? The company became the first US operator to offer Long Term Evolution (LTE) services this year, but we like MetroPCS for its focus, too. It knows what kind of customer it wants, and it doesn't try to be all things to all people (even though its slogan is "Wireless for All"). The company's pay-in-advance, no-contract, flat-rate service plans caught on this year as it added 1 million new subscribers between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the second quarter of 2010.
tw telecom inc. (Nasdaq: TWTC) -- Here's a cloud computing story that's probably not getting enough press. Tw Telecom is running its business well in 2010 and, as the analysts at Deutsche Bank point out, its enterprise revenue "experienced its highest sequential growth in two years with demand driven by secular growth trends in cloud-based computing and data center usage." Given that a lot of tw telecom's customers are other carriers, the company is even less susceptible to fickle consumers and more likely to benefit from the continuing growth of Ethernet and data services.
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