Lucent Hones Wireless Edge in Verizon Deal

Lucent's ( LU) wireless winning streak is persuading Wall Street to overlook a losing legacy.

Though its conventional telecom equipment business remains torpid, Lucent is emerging as a reinvigorated leader on the wireless front. Happily for the company, wireless happens to be one of the few areas of solid spending in the networking industry.

On Tuesday, the Murray Hill, N.J., telecom gear shop finally netted a long-awaited supply deal with Verizon Wireless. The agreement, worth $5 billion over six years, picks up where a previous three-year arrangement left off and includes a $525 million wireless data equipment upgrade announced in March.

Observers say the deal cements Lucent's status as Verizon Wireless' primary equipment supplier. But beyond that, Tuesday's win suggests Lucent could be ready to pick up other big contracts across the industry.

On Tuesday, Lucent rose 11 cents to $3.49.

Jockeying

Lucent also figures to play a leading role in Sprint's ( FON) fast mobile Internet upgrade plans, announced last month. Sprint opted for a technology called evolution data only, or EV-DO. But the Kansas telco didn't specify how much it planned to spend or whose equipment it was going to use. Analysts expect Lucent and Nortel ( NT) to split the contract, with slightly more going to Lucent, given the distribution of the existing equipment.

And looking ahead, Lucent is expected to be on a short list of vendors for Cingular's third generation, or 3G, upgrade plans. The company, a joint venture of SBC ( SBC) and BellSouth ( BLS), is poised to become the nation's largest wireless telco, pending its acquisition of AT&T Wireless ( AWE).

This spring, Lucent won an exclusive supply arrangement with Cingular to build a universal mobile telecommunications system, or UMTS, network in Atlanta for trials. The deal provides a toehold in what could be a fairly large opportunity for Lucent.

Cingular is drawing up plans to expand UMTS nationally over the combined coverage area of its network and AT&T Wireless, under the assumption that the buyout will be approved.

Depending on the success of the trial, Cingular will make a roster of three to five potential suppliers next month. Then, some time this fall, Cingular will pick the two or three vendors that will split the estimated $1 billion-plus initial contract, according to a person familiar with the process.

Turnaround Time

The fact that it has a shot at landing Cingular's business represents a considerable improvement for Lucent. After helping Cingular with its first stage of digital networking, known as time division multiple access, Lucent was forced to give up many of its efforts in the next phase of expansion known as global systems for mobile, or GSM.

Instead, the company jumped ahead and focused on UMTS, which is aligned with the wideband code division multiple access, or WCDMA, wireless technology path. Now, that gamble could pay off if Lucent gets a big piece of the Cingular expansion business.

As for Verizon Wireless, Lucent says it will provide network gear, software and technical service to the telco for the next six years. But some observers and company insiders expect the bulk of the $5 billion to be spent in the first four years.

The previous three-year contract expired at the end of last year and was extended into this year as Verizon ironed out its network upgrade plans. Industry analysts began expecting a multibillion-dollar contract renewal as early as the beginning of the year. In September, TheStreet.com reported that Lucent would land the Verizon Wireless job.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon and Vodafone, is the nation's largest cell-phone service. In January, Verizon Wireless announced a $1 billion plan to add the EV-DO fast mobile Internet access technology. Lucent, Nortel, Nokia ( NOK) and Ericsson ( ERICY) will split the work on that contract, with Lucent getting slightly more than half of the total value of the contract.

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