Optical/IP Networks

MWC 2009: Starent Dines on LTE

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2009 -- After announcing its first major LTE deal with Verizon Wireless here today, mobile packet core specialist Starent Networks Corp. (Nasdaq: STAR) is now confident that more will follow. (See MWC 2009: Verizon Picks LTE Vendors.)

"We're clearly very excited. Verizon Wireless is a valued customer," Starent's CEO Ash Dahod tells Light Reading on the show floor here in Barcelona.

He says the U.S. operator will use the existing ST40 platform, already deployed in Verizon Wireless's current CDMA network, for this year's trials as it's upgradeable for LTE. If LTE takes off after commercial deployment, then Starent plans to provide the operator with a new "next generation" platform, currently under development, that will be engineered for so-called 4G networks.

That Starent has been chosen for Verizon's LTE packet core isn't a major surprise, as Starent is an existing, deployed technology provider to the carrier. The icing on the cake could come in the form of additional LTE orders from other companies tied in to Verizon's LTE plans.

The U.S. operator has been working closely with stakeholder Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and China Mobile Communications Corp. on LTE trials, so does today's news mean Starent is also lined up for LTE gigs at the other two members of the triumvirate? (See China Mobile Joins LTE Threesome.)

"This positions us somewhat favorably," says Dahod diplomatically. He notes that Starent is already a supplier of mobile gateways to Vodafone as part of a global agreement, but that China Mobile, which was only recently awarded a 3G license, is not yet a customer. (See Starent Wins VOD Deal.)

Starent's prospects of landing business from China Mobile are now better than before, though, not only because of today's news but also because the packet core specialist has found itself a local Chinese partner (currently not named) that can support local rollouts and integration work.

And what about prospects with the two companies providing Verizon Wireless with the LTE access infrastructure, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)? Could Starent strike a formal business relationship with those companies in the same way it did with Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)? (See Motorola Enlists Starent for 4G Push.)

Dahod says Starent has been working closely with the two equipment giants for some time now, but the Verizon deal "doesn't have to lead to that [a formal partnership]."

Starent's share price closed Tuesday at $14.14.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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