3:00 PM -- In the Company of the Year (Public) category of Light Reading's 2011 Leading Lights Finalists, we are, as always, looking for growth, stability, solid technology and exceptional managers. Now, we are entering into some really choppy waters what with the stock market being torn apart by bears and investors finding themselves more at odds with Wall Street than any other time in recent history.
Keep in mind, these aren't stock picks, and investors should always do their own research. What these finalists embody, we think, are some bright spots in the industry. They've managed their businesses well this year. Some have stood out for their financial performance, but all have exhibited the kind of technology leadership and general competitive nature that positions them well for years to come:
Acme Packet Inc. (Nasdaq: APKT) -- Again. Just as we said around this time last year, the session-border controller and IP session management specialist is doing what a network specialist does best -- growing steadily and thriving in the shadow of larger, better-funded competitors.
Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) -- Yes, we have another repeat from last year's short list and for good reason: They're a category leader that is managed well and seems positioned for continued growth. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Qwest/CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) are still among its top accounts and despite a 20 percent stock price fall-off in the past 52 weeks, we think they've had a very successful year.
Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) -- Amdocs has seen its share price slide as well, but this pick is really a consolidation story. As the largest telecom service providers continue to combine and, at least at first, make their businesses more complex, the billing and customer service software leaders will get bigger orders and will be tasked with handling much of that integration behind the scenes. The icing on the cake is that Amdocs is seeing double-digit growth in emerging markets, so it's not just an old-world telecom story.
BroadSoft Inc. -- BroadSoft is living proof that a massive network transformation is happening inside telecom service providers and enterprises of all sizes. The company's application servers and IP telephony and data services continued to grow in popularity during 2011, thanks largely to the speed at which telcos like Verizon are deploying its software to enable consumer VoIP services. In the enterprise, BroadSoft has larger and better-funded competitors, but the company's focus hasn't wavered and its story gets better every year.
EZchip Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: EZCH) -- The company's network processors are showing up in more places than ever, and its product roadmap looks to keep it atop the small but growing market. The company is profitable, its stock is up more than 35 percent in the past year and analysts are expecting its fiscal 2012 to be more of the same, with earnings-per-share growth around 36 percent. Even if the space commoditizes quickly, there's a lot to like about EZchip in the short term.
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) -- You have to describe Google as Apple-esque in its influence. The gatekeeper of Android, the most popular smartphone operating system in the world, is now a device maker by proxy thanks to its pending purchase of Motorola Mobility LLC While the Moto buy might somewhat weaken Google's balance sheet, we think it will do more good than harm as the company continues to broaden its mobile reach and engage more people to use its Internet properties.
Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) -- Qualcomm is having a very good year. It has stable managers, a solid market position, impressive technology and a good growth story especially as we see its Snapdragon chipset powering more and more media-centric wireless tablets, phones and other devices. It helps, too, that Qualcomm is one of the only companies that can combine Wi-Fi, 3G, WiMax and LTE all in one chip, putting it in a great spot to provide the key ingredients to many multimode phones as more LTE networks go live.
Riverbed Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: RVBD) -- Yet another focused network specialist going up against bigger rivals and winning business on the basis of its technology and approach to the market. The company's move into virtual application control is a big deal and suggests that it will be a player as more enterprises make the move into the cloud. Also, analysts suggest that even as widely deployed as Riverbed's WAN optimization solutions are, this area has plenty of room to grow.
Don't forget: Leading Lights winners will be announced at an Awards Dinner at Hudson Terrace in New York City on Nov. 8, following the first day of Light Reading's Ethernet Expo Americas 2011 event.
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