Starent acquisition upends mobile network market

Kate Gerwig, Site Editor
22 Oct 2009

Mobile infrastructure vendors will face a bigger competitor in Cisco next year because of the networking firm's planned acquisition of Starent Networks.

Starent, the IP-based mobile infrastructure solutions niche player, is already well known among carriers, having Verizon Wireless and Sprint among its wireless operator customers, to name only two.

The big advantage for Cisco is that Starent's mobile solutions can deliver traffic from 2.5G, 3G and 4G (LTE and Wimax) wireless networks onto a mobile operator's packet core network. If the deal goes through, Cisco will be well positioned to bid for carrier business as wireless operators upgrade their networks to handle increasing amounts of wireless multimedia traffic .

To get a snapshot of what the acquisition bid means for Cisco and its competitors, editor Kate Gerwig talked to Godfrey Chua, research manager of Wireless and Mobile Infrastructure at IDC.

Why is this acquisition key to Cisco?
Chua: With the explosion of data applications and mobile users interested in getting on the Internet, the packet gateway market that connects mobile traffic to the Internet makes this the one segment within mobile infrastructure that is expected to grow much more than other wireless market segments.

What is your forecast for the mobile infrastructure market?
Chua: In our preliminary forecast, we expect mobile infrastructure to double in size over the next five years, maybe more than that. If you look at it globally, the Chinese launched a 3G network this year, and India will start building its 3G network next year. There is more and more demand for connectivity on mobile networks.

How does Stargent fit with Cisco?
Chua: The Starent acquisition plays into the Internet and IP. Cisco is all about IP, but it doesn't have the same kind of heritage on the mobility side. So to Cisco's credit, this shows it sees mobility as fundamental to the future of communications and is making sure it's relevant to the world of mobility.

Cisco already started its mobile infrastructure play, didn't it?
Chua: Cisco bought Navini Networks on the Wimax side, a little base station play, but Starent really gets Cisco into hardcore cellular networks, the ones serving 4 billion people around the world today.

Where does Starent already play in the market?
Chua: 3G and 4G mobile networks need to be connected to the Internet, and to put it very simply, Starent boxes make that happen. Whether it's 4G LTE or Wimax, Starent is already playing and delivering solutions in those markets.

Word on the street is that of all of Cisco's competitors, Juniper is the most threatened by this play. Is that true?
Chua: I believe that's true. Juniper plays in this space, as well, and has been a partner to Ericsson for a long time to connect GSM and UMTS. Ericsson is a dominant 3G force, but since Ericsson acquired Redback Networks, it has been developing its own solutions, especially for next-gen 4G networks.

Should other vendors be on notice, as well?
Chua: All of the traditional mobile infrastructure players face a challenge on this one – Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Huawei. It's a warning shot for everybody about how serious Cisco is in mobility. As more carriers look at deploying LTE, it becomes natural to include Cisco in the mobility discussion.

Will the two companies be a good fit?
Chua: Since Starent is a niche company, it will be strengthened with a company like Cisco behind it. Starent is in the Cisco mold of being pretty nimble and technology-driven. It will be interesting to see how the integration goes. It's definitely one step forward for Cisco making its presence felt in mobility, but clearly there's some overlap.

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