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Optical/IP

NSN to Sell Optical Business

Nokia Networks has agreed to sell its Optical Networks business to Marlin Equity Partners, the private equity firm that recently announced plans to buy what was left of Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR). (See Sycamore Prepares to Shut Down.)

No financial terms were disclosed. Once the deal is concluded, which is expected to happen in early 2013, about 1,900 NSN staff, most of whom are based in China, Germany and Portugal, will transfer to Marlin. The private equity firm is creating a new optical systems company, based in Munich, with NSN's current head of optical, Herbert Merz, as the CEO.

The divestment includes NSN's 100Gbit/s coherent platform, the hiT 7300, and its packet-optical switch, the hiT 7100, plus a number of network management and planning tools. NSN claims to have more than 200 optical transport systems customers. (See XO Deploys First Nationwide 100G Network, XO's Not Done Yet With 100G, NSN Makes Optical Advances and Euronews: NSN Lands 100G Deal.)

The deal does not include NSN's Carrier Ethernet assets, for which a separate divestment deal is being sought. (See Can NSN Offload Its Carrier Ethernet Assets?)

NSN has already sold a number of technology assets, including its microwave backhaul, WiMax, fixed access broadband and IPTV product lines, and is still seeking buyers for others parts of the business. (See Is NSN Close to BSS Sale? and M&A Interest in NSN's BSS Assets Builds.)

Marlin intends to form a new optical equipment company around the new acquisition and buy more assets: It says it "intends to act as a consolidator, building an industry leader in the fragmented optical networking sector."

That sector, which generates sales of around US$15 billion a year currently, has been in decline this year, according to Ovum Ltd. . The current market leaders, according to Infonetics Research Inc. , are Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). (See Ovum: Optical Networking Market Shrinks Again.)

Why this matters
This is a significant move for NSN, which had not identified its optical business as "non-core" when it unveiled its new strategy a year ago. In fact, NSN pinned its future on a broad mobile broadband-focused market strategy, dubbed Liquid Net, that included Liquid Transport as a key element. (See NSN Hangs Its Future on the Liquid Net.)

But NSN is still a company struggling for financial stability and this deal should bring in some cash and, perhaps more importantly, reduce its operating cost base beyond its initial targets, as the 1,900 staff that will come off its payroll are in addition to the 17,000 jobs NSN is shedding as part of its restructuring process.

That cost-cutting process is already having an impact on NSN's profitability, so the vendor's parents, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE), will likely see this asset sale as a positive. (See APAC Boosts NSN's Q3.)

An NSN spokesman tells Light Reading that "transport is important" but that the company could now narrow its technology focus on the radio access network (RAN), mobile core and customer experience management (CEM). Once the divestment is complete, NSN will "work with best-of-breed partners" and integrate third-party technology with its remaining mobile broadband products using its Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) tools (NetAct and configuration software) in the same way it already does with routers and microwave backhaul systems.

For the optical transport sector, this deal signals something of a shake-up, as Marlin clearly intends to look for further assets to buy to give it greater scale. The private equity firm is also intent on building a broader portfolio for the telecom sector as it recently acquired Openwave Messaging Inc. and Openwave Mobility Inc. (See Openwave Goes Private and Unwired Planet Sells Units to Marlin.)

For more on NSN's transformation

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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