NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Like a beached whale, Cisco ( CSCO) was left stranded late last year, cut off from the rising tide that has lifted the rest of the tech sector.

The problem going into Cisco's earnings call after the bell Wednesday is that those annoying little "air pockets" that CEO John Chambers pointed to in November haven't yet dissipated. The spending slowdown that dramatically suspended Cisco's sales growth still hangs over the San Jose, Calif. networking shop.

Financially broke state governments and municipalities are still making budget cuts. Cable companies are continuing to suffer from cord-cutters. And teetering economies in southern Europe aren't investing in new computer networks.

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Cisco shares plunged 20% in the week following the company's November earnings outlook disappointment. The weak performance placed Cisco among the top five tech losers of 2010. Three months later, the stock has not yet regained even half the ground of its post-warning slide. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq has gained 8% in the past three months as investors crowd in to the rally.

Wall Street awaits an update from Chambers on the health of tech spending and Cisco's ability to find new areas of growth.
Cisco CEO John Chambers

Some analysts predict that healthy sales of networking gear to data center constructions and the push for Internet-based cloud computing could help offset Cisco's weaker businesses.

But there's a greater worry. There's growing concern that Cisco may have reached its apex. Long dominant in so many products in so many regions of the world, the fear is that there's only one direction to go from here, and it isn't up.

Making this scenario a little more serious are the challenges Cisco faces from rivals Juniper ( JNPR), Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) and even China shops like Huawei. Without growth, these competitors will chip away at Cisco's market share and margins.

Look for our live blog from the Cisco earnings call starting at 3:45 p.m. ET.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

Editor's note: "Tech Edge" is a blog written and compiled by Scott Moritz, TheStreet's senior tech correspondent. The blog explores behind-the-scenes tech news, rumors and reports that Wall Street folks are talking about.

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