NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As the big networking gearmakers like Ericsson ( ERIC), Alcatel Lucent ( ALU), Nokia ( NOK)- Siemens ( SI) and Cisco ( CSCO) vie for a place on the gravy train of 4G wireless upgrades, Starent ( STAR) continues to get crowded out. Starent is one of the design leaders in evolved packet core, or EPC, technology that helps telcos deliver wireless data and Web pages to smartphone users. Investors know this to be a very hot area in a lucrative upcoming tech supply cycle. The problem for Starent is that outfits like AT&T ( T) and Verizon ( VZ) are trying to line up the vendors for their next-generation equipment. And typically, the spoils of these bakeoffs are divided among the large players. With so much riding on the long term evolution or LTE 4G upgrade, few technology decision makers like to roll the dice on smaller suppliers. Some of the concern is that suppliers need the scale and wherewithal to deliver gear consistently over the length of a multi-year project. In other words, while people might love the underdog, CTOs don't. Starent has proven to be a strong tech developer and the company made great strides at Verizon and Sprint ( S) during the 3G wireless expansion. In 4G, the momentum has started to swing toward the larger shops however. Verizon handed Starent mixed news in April when it named the company a secondary supplier to its 4G effort, sharing the account with Alcatel Lucent. Now it appears that AT&T is the next U.S. telco giant to opt for scale over skill in the evolved packet core technology. According to analysts, AT&T has narrowed the field to Nokia-Siemens, Ericsson and Cisco.
The move doesn't come as a total surprise. Analysts have pointed out that Starent's strength has been with the CDMA technology shops like Verizon and Sprint and it has found the European standard of GSM less to its advantage. LTE is a faster data network technology that traces its roots to GSM on the other side of the pond. Starent executives were still holding out hope that the company could land some role in the 4G drama at AT&T. "I prefer not to speculate on how things will unfold at AT&T," Starent CEO Ashraf Dahod told analysts on an earnings conference call last week. Dahod said he expected that "we can demonstrate to AT&T the superiority of our product." Reported by Scott Moritz in New York