VoIP Systems

Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger

Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS) CEO Hassan Ahmed says he's ready to play a role in the current consolidation process sweeping the telecom equipment sector. But he wants Sonus to be the predator, not the prey.

Talking to Light Reading in London as his company announced a multimillion-dollar deal with up-and-coming broadband service provider Carphone Warehouse Group plc (London: CPW), Ahmed said Sonus has a "strong balance sheet" and "$340 million in cash," and it is looking to expand by making acquisitions. (See Carphone Uses Sonus for VOIP, Sonus Shows Promise in Q4, and Sonus Reports Q1.)

Those acquisitions will expand Sonus's IMS capabilities, he noted, with an emphasis on applications development and delivery. "Carriers are looking to build service bundles and develop applications beyond voice," said Ahmed. Sonus will look for acquisition targets that will extend its existing service delivery and development capabilities.

Best known for its softswitch and media-gateway products, Sonus has already developed its own applications hosting and development platform, the IMX Multimedia Application Platform. (See Sonus Struts its Stuff.)

But it's clear the company wants to extend those sorts of capabilities. Already this year it has announced a number of partnerships and marketing agreements with companies, such as NMS Communications Corp. and IP Unity Corp. , that extend Sonus's service creation, delivery, and management offerings in the fixed and mobile sectors. (See Sonus Teams With NMS, Sonus, IP Unity Team Up, and Sonus Strikes Partnerships.)

Is privately held IP Unity the kind of company Sonus is eyeing? Not surprisingly, "Sonus will continue to evaluate opportunities and make investments that we feel are in the best interest of our customers and shareholders," is the official company response to that follow-up question.

Ahmed wasn't shy when it came to passing judgment on some of his larger competitors. The CEO says Sonus is small enough to be able to react quickly to market developments and sustain a profitable business in a niche segment and therefore doesn't need to find a merger partner or be acquired by an industry giant, such as the soup-to-nuts company being formed by Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), to survive.

Nortel Networks Ltd. , however, is "depositioned" following the M&A deals that have created supersized vendors, reckons Ahmed. (See Nokia, Siemens Create Networks Giant, Alcatel, Lucent Seal Deal, and Ericsson Buys Bulk of Marconi.)

"Nortel is neither a one-stop shop, nor a nimble innovator," and needs to find a way out of that hole, Ahmed says.

Not that the Alcatel/Lucent combination is any better placed, adds the Sonus CEO. "That deal is all about synergies, not growth or innovation. The management [of Lucatel] will be focused inwards on finding the cost savings and synergies they need," in order to not be focused on the market and customers, he says.

"We had to focus inwardly in 2004," remembers Ahmed, "and it was very hard to concentrate on growth during that time." (See Sonus Cleared by SEC, Stock Jumps and Sonus Drops a Bomb.)

It's not as if Ahmed can concentrate solely on growing Sonus. He does have a hefty incentive to do so -- his maximum 2006 bonus of $318,750 would be paid if Sonus meets certain targets, according to SEC filings. But, even though the CEO and his team expect revenues to grow in line with the expected 20 percent to 25 percent annual growth in the VOIP equipment sector, analysts are still concerned about fierce competition from larger vendors.

There are also lingering concerns about the unpredictability of the vendor's quarterly numbers, and about its reliance on a relatively small number of high-volume customers.

And at $4.56, the Sonus share price is some way off its 12-month high of $5.99, even dipping below $4 earlier this month.

Add to that the investor class action lawsuit announced in January this year, and the Sonus CEO has plenty of internal issues to ponder as Sonus continues to grow and hunt for M&A prey. (See Sonus Faces Class Action.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

digits 12/5/2012 | 3:50:28 AM
re: Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger Of course, everyone says they're going to be the buyer and not the target, but let's say no-one is going to buy Sonus (and you can't take that as a given for ANY company these days), which companies would it make sense for Sonus to buy?

IP Unity has built itself a decent position but may be a bit expensive.

ANy thoughts?
DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:50:25 AM
re: Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger Would they have any use for Genband?

materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:50:24 AM
re: Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger Perhaps they should buy JNPR (ha ha).
allidia 12/5/2012 | 3:50:17 AM
re: Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger Rumor had them hot for Cedar Point earlier this year. Would give them a presence in CATV market for which they are absent. No idea what that would cost them but it was about the time of Nuera deal so probably speculation or desperation on CP part.

As for being the predator and not the prey, Do you really think anyone would want to buy them with the excessive valuation and potential hazards ahead? Why did the VP Sales leave? Why hasn't the lawsuit gone away? Are Options going to be an issue? Maybe if it was a Zero premium deal but even then with LU taking SBC/T/BLS and Cingular for IMS there is not much left in US for them.

optodoofus 12/5/2012 | 3:50:16 AM
re: Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger It remains to be seen who will actually get the US IMS revenues. Lucent is in the driver's seat thus far based on their design wins. But if you look at what they are actually offering, it makes you shake your head and wonder what SBC/BLS/Cingular are thinking. The Lucent IMS solution incorporates the P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF, BGCF and (depending on who you listen to) HSS in one box. That architecture has been around for years - it's called a softswitch. Without open interfaces, anyone who buys this solution is locked into Lucent until they decompose the functions into multiple boxes. And, given Lucent's softswitch development track record, that should happen right around the time hell freezes over.

I predict that in about a year, every carrier who selected Lucent's IMS solution will be back in the marketplace looking for a solution that scales (and works). Wait and see.

trzwuip 12/5/2012 | 3:50:16 AM
re: Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger Cedarpoint's product doesn't work from what my customer says. They are yanking it out after one year of trying to get it to work right in favor of another switch. In addition, their installation techs didn't know what the hell they were doing when interoperating. NT would be better off adding the Cable Labs specs to their upcoming CS-1500 than the Cedarpoint POS! Nice try Cedarpoint employee!
DPD 12/5/2012 | 3:50:15 AM
re: Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger >> Cedarpoint's product doesn't work from what my customer says.

Such angst. Are you still upset Cedar Point didn't hire you? Get over it. There are plenty of jobs out there such as McD's.
voipjunkie 12/5/2012 | 3:50:11 AM
re: Sonus Looks to Buy & Get Bigger
CedarPoint has a million subscribers on its switches. Read the link below.


I wouldn't count CedarPoint out, if I were you. And definitely not conclude that the switch does not work .
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