Users of Lucent's remote access products fear the telco giant's $19.3 billion (#11.6 billion) acquisition of Ascend will spell the end of product development and the downgrading of support.
Announcing the deal, Lucent executives warned of the "elimination" of overlapping product developments between it and Ascend. Likely products include those from Lucent's other acquisitions: ATM concentrator firm, Yurie Systems, and remote networking expert, Livingston Enterprises, which analysts calculate have not been as successful as Ascend's own offerings.
Mark O'Leary, network support officer at Manchester Computing Centre (MCC), said that Ascend products are "slightly less reliable" than those of Livingston, which has continued to provide excellent technical support since it was acquired by Lucent.
"I had an OS problem and a technical support guy rewrote code at 3am Florida time," said O'Leary, "Customer support like that is worth a lot."
He said that MCC used two Portmaster Three remote access servers to provide dial in access for 2,000 staff and students from Manchester University, Umist and the Royal Northern College of Music. The devices supported 60 lines that used ISDN or V.90 connections.
O'Leary said any move to using Ascend's competing Max range will involve a lot of investment that may not be available. He said Ascend had a more diversified product range but Livingston users indicated they "wouldn't touch them with a bargepole."
However, Keith Mitchell, of the London Internet Exchange, said many ISPs housed at Telehouse that use Ascend routers for dialup access, consider it quality kit that has proved its robustness.
"There can be a sensible rationalisation that combines the best features of both products and doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater," said Mitchell. However, he warned: "Companies doing acquisitions become lazier, Lucent should continue to innovate."
The acquisition of Ascend by Lucent - its 11th in the past 18 months - is by far its largest and puts it toe to toe with Cisco in a battle for dominance of the broadband market.
"We now have the largest broadband networking business in the world," said Lucent chairman and chief executive Richard McGinn.
Lucent is moving Ascend, along with its own data networking systems business, into a newly formed broadband networks group, that McGinn said would develop "next generation broadband networks".
Meta Group analyst, Jean-Louis Seguineaum, said the acquisition would have no impact on the IP switching and IP routing market that Cisco dominates, but would affect Alcatel, which has a number of alliances with Ascend.
The overlap of remote access products creates a number of choices for Lucent.
"The Lucent and Ascend product sets are mainly complementary," said IDC networking analyst Pim Bilderbeek. The main area of overlap, though, is between the Lucent remote access products - which it inherited with the October 1997 acquisition of Livingston Enterprises. Bilderbeek said he expected the Lucent Portmaster IP remote access family to be phased out, and replaced by the higher end Ascend Max range.
Gartner Group research director Neil Rickard said Lucent would have to choose between the technologies. "It cannot maintain two dialup technology bases for remote access. Ascend has the larger customer base," he said.
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