Cisco eyes collaboration, developing markets

Cisco reaffirmed its previously stated financial guidance for the current quarter at an analyst conference Wednesday.

Cisco Systems is on target to meet its growth forecast for this quarter and sees big opportunities over the next several years in collaboration technologies and developing economies, executives told financial analysts on Wednesday.

The company said last month it expects revenue to grow 16 percent in the current quarter, ending in October, and Chairman and CEO John Chambers said it stands by that estimate. That was one of few references to current results during a daylong conference for Wall Street analysts at Cisco's San Jose, California, headquarters.

Instead, Cisco focused on what it sees as long-term trends that will help it grow.

Rich IP (Internet Protocol) communication among employees, friends and family members will change the way people work and live -- while offering an extra benefit to the router maker. "It really loads networks," a smiling Chambers said.

He sees Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking and wikis moving into enterprises alongside TelePresence, Cisco's big-screen, high-definition system for audio and video meetings. The company is so confident that enterprises will buy TelePresence that it's planning a suite of line cards for its flagship Catalyst switches that is designed to minimize jitter and other network problems to ensure the best TelePresence experience, said Jayshree Ullal, senior vice president of Cisco's data center, switching and security technology group.

Even as it crows about the superior quality of its own system, Cisco is also offering a version of TelePresence that can be hooked up with customers' existing videoconferencing points. The system, called Cisco Unified Conferencing for TelePresence, protects enterprises' investments in other conference platforms and has helped overcome resistance in some sales, Chambers said in an interview at the event. It's one more way to ease customers into TelePresence, along with a recent deal in which Regus Group will set up TelePresence facilities in its rental business centers, Chambers said.

Chambers emphasized to analysts that the key to Cisco's success is the big picture.

"It isn't anything unique that we're doing here, but it's an architectural play," Chambers said. Despite its brisk acquisition pace, the company doesn't acquire any technology that can't eventually be tightly integrated with the rest of its service provider, enterprise and home network products, he said.

Selling an end-to-end architecture instead of just boxes helps keep Cisco above price-driven competition, said Mark Sue, an equity analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

The company also has high hopes for emerging markets, where it expects year-over-year growth each quarter to average 30 percent to 50 percent over the next few years. The Middle East and Africa are especially hot now, including both oil-producing countries and parts of Africa where foreign aid money is going into networks for education and health care, said Paul Mountford, senior vice president for emerging markets. Meanwhile, in Europe, Cisco sees strong growth in Germany, which has used IT less than the U.K. but is embracing it more as it develops a service economy.

Cisco has added numerous technologies to its portfolio in the past few years, including unified communications, wireless and storage, and wants to pick up its pace. The company hopes to add a new technology every quarter, Chambers told the IDG News Service.

One analyst at the conference thinks that's the wrong strategy. Cisco is now facing the same problem Microsoft and Intel did a few years ago when PCs had filled the market, said Samuel Wilson of JMP Securities. Cisco's enterprise customers already have networks, and it has to convince them to upgrade them, he said. But a mature company such as Cisco should admit it's not young anymore and invest in dividends for its investors instead of branching off into new areas, Wilson said.

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