Cisco banks on ‘quad play’ for sustained growth

Chambers and other executives are wooing Wall Street with predictions about sustained long-term growth for the company

Cisco Systems chief executive John Chambers stoked the networking vendor’s love affair with IT investors by pointing to the company’s unified communications strategy and broad product portfolio as a way to sustain growth over the long term.

At the company’s annual financial analyst conference, held in New York recently, executives said Cisco will sustain double-digit growth through the rest of the decade by incorporating data, voice, video and mobile capabilities — what it calls its “quad play” — across product lines. At the same time it will address the service provider, enterprise, commercial and consumer markets.

“If you’re the innovator and the leader it protects you from the startups and the advanced players,” Chambers says.

Cisco expects to sustain a 10% to 15% compound annual revenue growth-rate throughout the rest of the decade.

The company will be able to take advantage of the breakdown of barriers among vertical-market product lines, as consumers and professionals increasingly expect to get both corporate data and home and family information any time, anywhere, says Chambers.

“The network becomes the platform,” said Chambers, in a phrase frequently repeated during the event.

At the corporate level, product integration is fuelled by a trend in businesses to move from a “command control” style of management to a more collaborative model, he says.

“If you asked me a few years ago I would have said collaboration could account for maybe 10% to 20% productivity efficiency but now I would say that’s closer to 30% to 40%,” he says.

The company is banking on business uptake of video collaboration tools to boost network traffic and the need for new infrastructure. The quad play equipment and services Cisco offers will be taken up broadly, by smaller commercial companies as well as Fortune 500 businesses, says Chambers. As an example, he points out that a 12-store Subway food chain in Texas has already implemented a quad play Cisco-based system that uses video to reduce theft.

Cisco can also help companies innovate and graduate to new technologies, says Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco’s chief development officer. Giancarlo says Cisco “reinvented the TDM PBX [time division multiplex public branch exchange] industry ... bringing it into the unified communications era” through VoIP gateways and other products and services.

The big question for attendees was whether Cisco can sustain growth and product leadership. The company has had 21 straight quarters where it met or exceeded Thomson Financial analyst consensus expectations, says chief financial officer Dennis Powell. The company’s share price has benefited, surging by about 25% over the last year, compared to about 5% growth for the Nasdaq exchange.

Powell forecast 19% to 21% growth for the quarter ending in October (including revenue from recent acquisitions), about even with Thomson Financial expectations for the first fiscal quarter, of 20.4% revenue growth.

Conference attendees noted that so far the company has been able to deliver on its promise to expand into new markets from its traditional corporate switching and router base.

One institutional investor who declined to be named says the company has placed its Carrier Routing System-1 carrier-class product into some 60 companies.

While attendees said they would like more specifics about upcoming products, several agreed that certain specifics about the business appear to position the company for further growth.

For example, Powell says the company will offer a dividend to investors, one sign that the company is confident of its growth predictions, says Mark Sue, an analyst with brokerage RBC Capital Markets. “Of course we’d like to know when, but that is a positive sign,” Sue says.

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