Cybersecurity firm Fortinet's purchase last week of wireless network manufacturer Meru Networks for $44 million is the second major acquisition of a Wi-Fi hardware vendor in three months and, potentially, the start of a broader pattern.
HP bought Aruba Networks in late February for $3 billion, in a move that upset the balance of the wireless industry by raising questions about Aruba's OEM relationships with HP rivals like Dell. Now, that HP-Aruba deal looks as though it could be the herald of a more general consolidation in the wireless sector.
Wireless hardware is increasingly commoditized, according to Gartner researcher Mark Hung, with the result that the only way for companies to add value to wireless products is through stronger integration with the broader network infrastructure.
"Cisco is on the high-end, Ubiquiti is on the low-end, and everyone else in between is getting squeezed," he said. "However, while it's tougher to make a business case out of stand-alone Wi-Fi, it is a very important piece to a network equipment provider's overall product portfolio."
ZK Research principal and Network World blogger Zeus Kerravala, by contrast, said that it's actually quite the opposite wireless technology is so valuable, in fact, that it's becoming an increasingly attractive target for acquisitive larger companies.
"Many businesses today consider the wireless network to be the primary network, which is a big shift in networking strategy," he said. "Also, the wireless network is becoming the source of information for engaging customers and workers differently."
Both, however, agree that the opportunity is there for further buyouts of wireless gear manufacturers. Although he declined to name companies specifically, Hung said that there are possibilities out there.
"If a network equipment OEM doesn't have the Wi-Fi piece, there are some attractive targets in the market right now," he said.
For his part, Kerravala speculated that the most attractive of those targets could be Extreme Networks, thanks to its strong technology and comparatively low market cap.
"When Extreme acquired Enterasys, it inherited an outstanding wireless portfolio and wireless analytics tool," he noted. "The integration has gone badly and the company's market cap is a paltry $337 million [actually about $274 million as of Thursday afternoon], very low for a company whose revenues are over half a billion."
Kerravala also said that others, including Aerohive and Ruckus, could prove highly attractive to a potential buyer. Aerohive's controller-less solution and positive growth are its main enticements, while Ruckus is the biggest pure wireless vendor left on the market.
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