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Cisco to buy wireless gear maker Starent for $2.9 billion
Tue Oct 13, 2009 3:31pm EDT
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By Ritsuko Ando
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cisco Systems Inc plans to buy advanced wireless equipment maker Starent Networks Corp for $2.9 billion to boost its product offerings as phone carriers build out next-generation networks.
In its second major acquisition this month, Cisco said it would pay $35 a share in cash for Starent, a nearly 21 percent premium on its Monday closing price. Starent shares jumped about 17 percent at mid-afternoon.
Analysts said the deal was negative for Cisco's smaller competitor, Juniper Networks Inc, which sells network equipment mainly to telecommunications companies. Juniper shares fell 2.7 percent while Cisco rose 0.3 percent.
"Snatching Starent out from under Juniper is an indication of how far Cisco will go to maintain its market share within core networking products," said Avian Securities analyst Catharine Trebnick.
While Juniper and others like Alcatel-Lucent SA could put in a competing offer, most analysts said they did not expect this as Cisco's deal is in cash and appeared fair.
UBS analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos said the price is almost 40 times Starent's 2010 earnings estimates, a multiple that Cisco has not paid since it bought Webex in 2007.
Starent makes network equipment that connects mobile phone service providers' core networks to 3G and 4G radio access networks, the newer wireless technology that supports mobile TV and multimedia messaging.
"The growth of smart mobile devices and netbooks has fundamentally changed consumer behavior with regards to how they use the Internet," said Ned Hooper, Cisco's chief strategy officer who also oversees the consumer business.
Hooper said Cisco will continue to be aggressive on acquisitions and it had the flexibility for more deals even after Starent and the $3 billion purchase of video conferencing company Tandberg, which was announced on Oct 1. Cisco ended its last quarter with $33.6 billion in cash, cash equivalents and investments.
"We feel very confident in our ability, if we were to choose, to tap into lines of credit and the debt markets as well," Hooper said.
MOBILE DATA GROWTH
Cisco has forecast that global mobile data traffic would more than double every year through 2013 as more consumers buy "smartphones" that offer access to video and Internet. Such advanced features require higher speed mobile technology.
Starent's technology is used in CDMA2000 and WiMax networks and the company's clients include Sprint Nextel Corp and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.
Cisco, the top U.S. network equipment maker, said Starent's gear will help it offer a near-complete product set for mobile carriers. Some of Starent's equipment competes with Cisco products, as well as those of companies such as Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.
Hilton Romanski, Cisco vice president of corporate development, said the company would decide what to do with competing equipment, but that their product portfolios were "significantly complementary." Continued...
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