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Now what?

After months of dating on the sly, the phone-gear giant


(LU) - Get Lufax Holding Ltd American Depositary Shares two of which representing one Report

finally consummated its long-awaited purchase of


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, a computer networker, for $20 billion in stock. Now, Lucent can challenge


(CSCO) - Get Cisco Systems Inc. Report

in a bid for global domination of the communications-equipment field.

The Lucent-Ascend merger means that rivals such as





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must hunt for partners if they are to play a role in tomorrow's network.

That network will be based on Internet Protocol (IP), which experts believe is becoming the lingua franca of computers conversing across the globe. Because Internet traffic is swelling to overtake voice traffic, carriers like

Level 3





are building networks that will simply treat voice calls like Internet traffic.

For suppliers, sheer size counts. The Lucent-Ascend axis boasts $31 billion in revenue and a combined market capitalization of $158 billion. While Lucent and Ascend do less than one-third of their business internationally, they still are growing sales faster than Ontario-based



and European players Alcatel and Ericsson. These three boast $66 billion in revenue but only $104 billion in market capitalization.

Look for companies such as

Fore Systems


, a leading supplier of ATM switches,


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, which is offering older switches, and


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to consider buyers. These small builders of switches and routers are themselves being squeezed by competitive forces.

Analyst Farrokh Billimoria with

Hambrecht & Quist

says smaller computer networkers face the prospect of being overshadowed by telecom giants. "At some point, the customer might just decide to go to someone with size," Billimoria says. Carriers in particular like to purchase network products from large suppliers, such as Lucent, which can offer discounts and likely will survive for years to come.

Worried about price competition, Billimoria has hold ratings on


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, Cabletron and Fore Systems. H&Q advised a company that Cabletron purchased in March 1998, but otherwise the firm has no banking ties to the companies Billimoria discussed.

Yet, not many of the remaining networkers are ripe takeover targets. 3Com is developing strong IP systems, but much of its business still depends on low-profit modems and PC-adapter cards. Fore Systems boasts strong ATM technology, but it recently stumbled with a product transition. Cabletron has lost considerable corporate market share. Ericsson has been a rumored acquirer of all three of those companies, according to one buy-side source.

Takeover speculation also has swirled around Canada-based



, although sales of its base "time-division multiplexing" systems are likely to slow in coming quarters.

Another group of companies that could be taken over includes a bunch of start-ups such as





Castle Networks

that offer new technologies for networking. Castle, for example, is designing a low-cost switch that combines voice traffic with Internet messages.

The Lucent-Ascend deal will also prompt rivals to adopt IP more quickly, says Phillip Coburn, senior vice president with New York money manager

Lynch & Mayer

. His firm holds shares of Cisco and Lucent.

Already Cisco is prodding a new breed of carriers like

Enron Communications

, a unit of



, to jump to all-IP gear.

"I don't think the music has stopped yet," says analyst Chris Nicoll with

Current Analysis

, a telecommunications research firm. (His research firm advises


. But, he adds, Ericsson, Alcatel and Siemens "really are going to be left out in the cold" unless they broaden IP offerings soon.