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Avaya's Nortel buy might not power it over Cisco

Study: Cisco communications revenues top Avaya's and Nortel's together in Q3 2009

By , Network World
November 30, 2009 05:40 PM ET

Network World - Even after it buys Nortel, Avaya won't dominate Cisco in the battle for business-communications customers, according to a new study.

IntelliCom Analytics says that in the third quarter of this year, Cisco scored No. 1 in sales of business communications gear, outstripping number two Avaya and number three Nortel's revenues combined.

The rise and fall of Nortel  

The numbers released Monday put Cisco ahead with 28.7% of sales, followed by Avaya with 18.4% and then Nortel with 9.9% -- a combined total of 28.3%. The numbers are for North American sales. Global numbers are due out in a week or so.
Analysts have said that one key reason for Avaya buying Nortel is that the deal would give the combined entity a dramatic lead in the race for business customers. At the VoiceCon conference this fall, analyst Alan Sulkin, president of TEQConsult Group said, "They're going to be a powerhouse. The last time somebody had a marketshare like this was AT&T in 1900."

At the same show, analyst Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group, quoted the combined Avaya/Nortel as holding 42% share of the North American market.

The difference between the numbers discussed at VoiceCon and those from IntelliCom is that the stats quoted at VoiceCon referred to numbers of phone line equivalents each vendor shipped vs. the total sales reaped for the products as measured by Intellicom.

While Avaya clearly improves its position either way, how much is open to interpretation, says Frank Stinson, partner and senior analyst with IntelliCom, who wrote "Intellicom Market Performance Dashboard 3rd Quarter 2009."

Both measurements are muddy because VoIP PBXs and peripheral systems aren't as cleanly measurable as were traditional PBXs and the phones that connected to them, he says. VoIP servers can be sold as software with hardware from a separate vendor a range of peripheral hardware and software. So a customer could buy a VoIP server but keep its traditional PBX in service via a gateway and make continued use of the old handsets, he says.

A long-term communications vendor such as Avaya might encourage its customers to upgrade to a hybrid of traditional TDM gear with VoIP products whereas Cisco, which never sold TDM gear, would encourage its customers to rip and replace, he says. That can also skew numbers, he says.

"It's not apples to apples," Stinson says. "I think what the numbers show is it gives Avaya a good shot at giving Cisco a run for its money."

As for IntelliCom's new study, it doesn't mark the first time that Cisco's No.1 ranked revenues outstripped the combined total for Avaya and Nortel. It achieved that mark in the third and fourth quarters of last year as well, Stinson says. Regardless, Cisco has held the No.1 spot consistently since the second quarter of 2007, he says.

Regardless of the horse race for the first-place ranking, there is a battle going on for Nortel customers, he says. Avaya clearly wants to capture as many as it can through the purchase of Nortel. Its competitors, including Cisco, want to use the uncertainty caused by Nortel's bankruptcy as leverage to grab away as many of those customers as they can.

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