The prospect that

Lucent Technologies

(LU:NYSE) may be window shopping for another network company has piqued the interest of investors and industry experts, as the hefty

AT&T

(T:NYSE) equipment spinoff shows signs of rumbling in a new direction.

On Oct. 8 Lucent announced the purchase of

Agile Networks

, a small, privately-held concern. So far the bread and butter of Lucent's business has been manufacturing phone switches, wireless network components, microchips and office gear for customers. But the Agile purchase marks a foray into wide-area data networks--the realm of

U.S. Robotics

(USRX:Nasdaq) and

Ascend Communications

(ASND:Nasdaq).

"There's a new boy on the block, and they're pretty large," said Skip McAskill, senior analyst at the

Gartner Group

, the Stamford, Conn. market research firm. Lucent may continue to buy its way into the market. "My gut reaction is that Lucent probably isn't done in its acquisition mode," added McAskill.

Lucent did not discount the possibility. "While growth through acquisition is not our strategy, Lucent Technologies may periodically partner or make an acquisition to enter new markets or gain access to new technology," said spokesman Dan Coulter in response to queries about likely partners.

Among the takeover candidates rumored on online bulletin boards--

General DataComm Industries

(GDC:NYSE), a maker of network hardware, whose shares have jumped from 10 3/4 to 11 7/8 in the last two days and climbed as high as 12 3/8 today. Thursday GDC huddled with analysts at a conference and announced its first contract for the beta version of a revamped product dubbed "Colossas." The customer:

MFS Communcations

(MFST:Nasdaq)

A GDC spokesman declined to comment about the Lucent rumor but did note that any merger decisions fall in the hands of chairman Charles Johnson, who controls the bulk of the voting-class stock.

GDC already supplies ATM switching nodes to Lucent. In June the companies their expanded their contract to include U.S. networks in addition to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific area.

Another target of online takeover speculation:

GRC International

(GRH:NYSE), which develops network software with Lucent and has commissioned

Smith Barney

to mull mergers or other business strategies. GRC, trading at about 11--down from 44 in June--is running a quarterly loss of $2.6 million or 28 cents per share; officials there declined to comment.

In the quarter ended Sept. 30 Lucent beat analysts' earning expectations by three cents. Net income swelled to $255 million, or 40 cents per share, compared to $13 million, or two cents per share, one year earlier. Revenue rose to $5.92 billion from $4.74 billion.

Investors have rewarded Lucent handsomely since the company went public in April, boosting its stock from 30 7/8 to close at 47 today, down 1 1/8. That cash wad in pocket could help loosen the Lucent purse strings this holiday season.

By Kevin Petrie