What Does the End of the Mid-Sized Tech Company Mean for Telecoms?

Oracle’s (ORCL) unsolicited $6.67 billion bid for BEA Systems (BEAS), deemed not enough by the prey, is a sign that the era of mid-sized software companies is coming to an end. Ben Worthen, who writes the wonderful Wall Street Journal’s The Business Technology Blog, sums it up nicely:

The only obvious losers in this deal are other midsize software companies and their customers. Between SAP’s acquisition of Business Objects earlier this week and the potential BEA deal, it’s clear that the era of the midsize software company is over. The big guys need to grow, and the only way they can continue to do so is by buying smaller companies. This should cause uncertainty at mid-size software companies, which is never good for customers.

Like software, another industry that is crying for a similar consolidation is telecom. There have been few deals such as Ericsson’s (ERICY) $2 billion purchase of Redback Networks, or Nokia (NOK) teaming up with Siemens to form Nokia-Siemens Networks (NSN), but those are not enough.

While the number of carriers, a.k.a. customers, has gone down drastically, the number of hardware vendors hasn’t changed much. The power is now in the hands of incumbent carriers, who can afford to play off increasingly desperate telecom equipment makers. A few senior executives have acknowledged this in private conversations.

Recent trials and tribulations of smallish vendors such as Tellabs (TLAB) and Adtran (ADTN) have borne the brunt of the blowback from carrier consolidation. And there are many more such mid-sized companies that are in the vise-like grip of the incumbents.

One of the reasons why we haven’t seen the rise of a consolidator is because telecom has a history of botched pairings. With the exception of Cisco Systems (CSCO), no one has shown any ability to absorb companies with even a modicum of competency. Look at the post-merger Alcatel-Lucent (ALA) and you get my drift.

Maybe telecom needs its own Larry Ellison! Anyone?


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