Friday, January 16, 2009

Nortel Files for Creditor Protection

On 14 January 2009, Nortel Networks filed for creditor protection in Canada and the US, with Nortel UK entering administration separately under a filing managed by Ernst & Young. The company reached this point after multiple management regimes failed in their attempts to remake the company after the bursting of the telecoms bubble. Nortel’s move may result in a more balanced industry structure for communications equipment.

There is no immediate industry impact from this filing, as Nortel’s downwards spiral has been gradual and bankruptcy restructurings take time. For Nortel’s three key constituencies – customers, investors, and staff – the announcement reinforces but does not fundamentally change earlier concerns. The latest phase in the Nortel saga began four months ago, when it pre-announced 3Q08 earnings (guiding down expectations), publicly put a ‘for sale’ sign on its Metro Ethernet Networks (MEN) division, and then mapped out yet another reorganization. At the time we stated that a more radical approach than divestiture was needed to cure the company’s woes. The bankruptcy filing is radical, but it will be exploited by competitors. They are now in a strong position to remind customers that Nortel can no longer give assurances of continued development of any specific products, which will surely impede Nortel’s ability to bring in new business.

Prior to this week’s filing, Nortel was in the midst of moving from four to three business units by folding bits and pieces of its Services division into the respective MEN, Enterprise Solutions, and Carrier Networks business units. The aim was to create three standalone operations with a more focused set of offerings and resources. Some elements of this restructuring are undoubtedly positive; for instance, rationalization of the Enterprise product line and phasing out some legacy technologies. However, this change follows numerous incremental divestitures or shutdowns of specific businesses and product lines (for example, broadband access and the UMTS and WiMAX RAN segments) in an attempt to focus and differentiate while cutting costs. By entering bankruptcy protection, Nortel’s fate will now be largely determined by its creditors and the courts. Hence the restructuring ahead will be much more brutal and less under Nortel’s control: product lines, technologies, partnerships, divisions, and even customers (i.e. installed base) will be candidates for shutdown or sale to the highest bidder.

Evolution to 4G. Nortel’s mobile infrastructure business is now focused on LTE/SAE (long term evolution/system architecture evolution). It is working hard to develop a strong LTE/SAE ecosystem including LG Electronics, LG Nortel, and other partners. It is doing its best to demonstrate its capabilities through trials (e.g. Verizon and T-Mobile Germany) and announcements (e.g. a deal with KDDI) and expects some commercial launches in 2009. Its LTE assets (part of the Carrier division) may be attractive for another player, perhaps Alcatel-Lucent, NEC, or ZTE.
There may also be some ‘rediscovered jewels’ from the recent acquisitions that became lost in the Nortel shuffle (e.g. Tasman) and may be of specific interest to some acquirers. Nortel emphasizes that its decision to file now – when its cash reserve is $2.6 billion – rather than 6–12 months down the line gives it added flexibility. That may be so, and may allow it to re-emerge as a smaller, better version of itself in the future. However, the scenarios mapped out above, in which rivals use Nortel’s bankruptcy filing as a chance to reshuffle the supplier landscape dramatically to their benefit, seem more likely. While public credit markets are tight and investors cautious, more aggressive capital sitting on the sidelines may also see this as an opportunity too ripe to pass up.

With thanks to - Dana Cooperson and Matt Walker, analysts at Ovum and Maria Di Martino , European PR Executive

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

LTE Market Provides Enthusiasm for Market Growth

While WiMAX dominated the news over the last year or so, LTE will probably be the hot topic this year as deployments start to happen. ABI Research reports that more than eighteen operators globally have announced LTE deployment plans, and the tough economy does not seem to have dampened their enthusiasm.

ABI Research estimates that operators will spend over $8.6 billion on LTE base station infrastructure alone. Verizon has announced acceleration of its LTE deployment timetable, bringing the launch forward from 2010 to 2009. Many of the others are looking at a 2011-2012 time frame, by which time, they hope, much of the current pain will have passed. ABI Research believes that NTT will also deploy LTE in Japan in 2009 and in general, LTE application development will also drive investment as operators work to determine which services to deploy on this high speed, low latency network.

We will certainly see where things are heading at Mobile World Congress in Feb as everyone congregates in Barcelona, Spain.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gearing up for a Slow Down

Last October at the European Microwave Week in Amsterdam, I met with a number of RF/mW component manufacturers and frequently got onto the subject of the financial crises that had been unfolding for several months. At the time, the economic downturn still seemed confined to the housing and finance markets and had not yet impacted our industry. Apparently the recession had started the previous December, but those keeping count must wait a few quarters before declaring that a recession is actually in effect.

While most everyone I spoke with was concerned about what was happening, the immediate future looked stable enough. Folks were busy, contracts were being won and business was respectable. Today, everyone seems much less up-beat and many folks seem jittery about potential business and are hunkering down for a long lean period. Personally, I think times like these provide individuals and companies that are willing to be aggressive yet smart with an opportunity to make some real gains against their competitors. It is a time for solutions that save costs and improve efficiency in the long term. Companies that can save their customers money should do fine, but they must communicate this value proposition.

David Strand, president of Strand Marketing Inc., a Newburyport, Massachusetts-based marketing and advertising agency specializing in the high tech industry, has written a marketing brief entitled “Gearing Up for a Slow Down: 7 ideas for Marketing in a Challenging Economy.” Contained within the brief are tips on investing marketing dollars in the most efficient ways. Topics include time-sensitive advertising, e-marketing, search engine optimization, PR and sales incentives.

“In these unstable times, business owners are understandably looking to cut costs. But is it time to do the Ostrich, or be a cautiously optimistic leader in your field?,” said Strand. “I’ve prepared this brief to offer some simple and inspiring ideas for keeping yourself out there in front of customers while the business world is building new cornerstones.”

The brief is available as a free PDF download at

More than ever companies need to invest in the R&D that will produce products that most benefit their customers needs and they must communicate this solution effectively. I believe engineers (the bulk of our authors and our audience) need that information in the form of technical articles, white papers and even multi-media outlets such as webinars. Companies connecting to their customers these days will likely develop loyalty that will last through many future business cycles.