Analysts continue to weigh in on Starent ( STAR) now that the wireless gear star has to share the stage with other 4G suppliers. Here's a quick recap -- or Tech Rumor victory lap, if you will: Two weeks ago TheStreet posted speculation that Starent was facing stiff competition from bigger network gearmakers like Cisco ( CSCO). And this hotter competitive climate threatened to end the company's sole-supplier status with big customers like Verizon ( VZ). Then, during the CTIA wireless show last week, Alcatel-Lucent ( ALU) announced a Starent-like product called an "evolved packet core," and said Verizon had already signed on as a customer. The news confirmed that Starent was indeed losing its status as Verizon's single-source supplier of wireless network equipment that lets smartphone users surf the Internet and swap videos. Analysts were quick to interpret the impact. "Starent's sole-sourced position at Verizon, where it derives close to 80% of its revenue ... does not survive into the next generation of technology," wrote JPMorgan analyst Ehud Gelblum. Starent shares have dropped 9% since the Alcatel announcement. The interpretations keep coming, and they don't spell out a sole-source future for Starent. Verizon's 4G or long-term evolution (LTE) network upgrade with core packet gear is "a three-horse race," William Blair analyst Anil Doradla wrote Monday. These horses include Starent, Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson ( ERIC). And while Starent has been dominant in 3G at Verizon and Sprint ( S), the opportunity to supply 4G gear to AT&T ( T) seems nil, Doradla writes.
Starent shares had more than doubled since November as investor discovered this small Tewksbury, Mass. supplier with an advanced technology and a lock on wireless upgrade sales to Verizon and Sprint. A sole-source position is like an NCAA basketball crown: It's an ultimate honor, but you can't wear it forever. In Starent's case, a fall from being Verizon's only supplier to one of two or three key suppliers is significant from an investor's standpoint. Not only does the competition threaten to narrow Starent's lush 78% gross margins and high profits, but it also reduces its appeal as a nifty buyout target. Any of the big players that lacked a Starent-like product could have swooped in to acquire the company and its winning tech. Now, it seems, Starent has to persevere as a strong, but fallen champ.