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Industry Standard

10 companies that make networking easier


November 23, 1999
Web posted at: 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT)

by Jason K. Krause

(IDG) -- Telecommunications hardware isn't terribly glamorous. We're talking about the big boxes, routers, switches, hubs and fiber-optic pipes that make the Internet run. Most of us probably wouldn't even know the difference between a router and a switch. The good thing is, we may never have to.

That's because the companies on this list are building ever more reliable and ever more powerful levels of capability into the next generation of Internet platforms. The Net has come a long way since its early days of experimental protocols and kludged-together platforms. But if you've ever had a network outage or lost an Internet connection, you know the Web can still be quite unstable. And as evidenced by the recent MCI WorldCom network outage, network problems can be devastating.

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  1. 3Com: One harsh assessment of 3Com might be to label it "Cisco's unpopular sister." While 3Com makes the same type of Internet routing and switching equipment as its Silicon Valley neighbor, it has never managed the stunning success that seems to come so easily to Cisco Systems.

  2. Alcatel: French telecom giant Alcatel, like the German semiconductor leviathan Siemens, is a company with so many lines of business that it's hard to grasp. That's both the problem and the promise of the company.

  3. Broadcom: Broadcom gets the attention (and stock-market valuations) of an Internet company, but don't be fooled: This is really an old-school chip company, with a twist. Broadcom wants to jump-start a broadband future in the same way that Intel kick-started the PC revolution.

  4. Cisco Systems: Cisco systems is one company that practices what it preaches. Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of the company's efforts to wire, network and Internet-enable the world, can simply check out Cisco's own infrastructure.

  5. Ericsson: At first glance Nokia seems to be winning the battle of the Scandinavian telecommunications giants. For one thing, Nokia can claim more people using its handsets. Still, its neighbor Ericsson has a few tricks up its sleeve.

  6. Lucent: When Lucent Technologies was formed in 1996 from the networking, telephony and research divisions of AT&T, it began life as one of the world's top 50 grossing companies. Still, it was easy to dismiss Lucent as hopelessly mired in the past, tied to the ancient circuit-switched networks that are being replaced by Internet technologies. But that has actually become the company's greatest advantage.

  7. Motorola: Motorola is a confusing company. It spent the past couple of years treading water as competitors like Nokia and Ericsson caught up. It missed the initial transformation of cell phones from a business to a consumer product and from analog to digital, then ^nally began moving again this year after an aggressive reorganization. But the company suddenly found a cement block tied to its feet when Iridium, the global telephone satellite system it created, plunged into bankruptcy.

  8. PSINet: With 10 years of experience under its belt, PSINet is one of the grandfathers of the Internet access game. But while most of its early competitors either were bought or suffered a slow death, the venerable PSINet, led by CEO William Schrader, has remained independent and on course to challenge the traditional telecom carriers in selling Internet services.

  9. Nortel: Canada is rumored to be a nurturing, helpful kind of place (if you ignore the hockey ^ghts). Maybe that's why Canada's Nortel Networks has emerged as the company telecommunications service providers turn to when they need a little help. Nortel has proved effective in easing the transition from old-guard circuit-switch networks to next-generation Internet-based networks.

  10. Siemens: While the telecom world is currently focused on startups like Global Crossing, Siemens has quietly been going about its business for more than 150 years.

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