Most Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) shareholders apparently cheered Cisco’s acquisition of optical communication technology company Acacia Communications (NASDAQ:ACIA), as the already-overbought Cisco stock rose following the announcement of the deal. It’s possible that many of those investors, however, don’t fully understand the significance of the transaction.
The networking giant will bolster the breadth and depth of its fiber optic tech portfolio by officially making Acacia, which was already a CSCO supplier, part of the Cisco family.
It’s a development that merits a look beyond simple explanations, though, even for the non-tech layperson who happens to hold Cisco stock. Although the deal won’t immediately boost Cisco stock price, the transaction sets the stage for Cisco stock to rally beginning in 2020.
Another Smart Deal
Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins has made clear since he took the helm in 2015 that Cisco would use what’s now a $35 billion war chest to invest in bolt-on businesses. And that’s what he’s been doing. Shortly before the $2.6 billion offer was made to Acacia, Cisco announced its intent to acquire Sentryo. In January, it bought Singularity Networks. In 2018, Cisco acquired six companies.
The Acacia deal is another big step down a mostly-underestimated path that Cisco is already traveling, though. With Acacia, CSCO now has something it can offer network operators that will have to use fiber optic solutions to handle the massive data loads which the advent of 5G connections will create.
In short, Acacia’s wares, known as coherent optical interconnect products, facilitate so-called long-haul optical communications that can travel thousands of miles.
Acacia’s products are the perfect complement to Cisco’s large-scale networking portfolio, though they also bolster the “inside the data center” optical networking technology that CSCO obtained through last year’s acquisition of Luxtera.
Coherent Technology Is the Inevitable Future
Coherent technology is a vague term used to describe using light-based signals to communicate at 100G speeds (and beyond) for long, long distances.
Cisco didn’t invent it, exactly. Arguably, it was smaller rival Ciena (NYSE:CIEN) that laid the ground work for long-distance fiber optic communications a decade ago. Ciena hasn’t been able to commercialize the technology the way Cisco appears it will be able to, however.
5G wireless speeds are set to effectively be three to four times faster than 4G connections, though in practical theory, they could be ten or twenty times faster. That makes 5G a potential alternative to wire-based internet communications.
For perspective, Cisco forecasts that global coherent traffic will reach 13.2 exabytes per day in 2022, up from 4.1 exabytes per day in 2017. 5G devices will spur much of that new traffic.
The catch is that radio signals can only travel so far, and cross-country communications can’t be handled by radio. They have to be carried by a physical line at least some of the way. Fiber optics, or optical networking, are the only way to do that. And to make optical networking feasible, many 100G-capable fiber optic lines will have to be laid down. That, of course, is where Cisco’s coherent technology will come in.
Looking Ahead for Cisco Stock
The coherent optical technology hardware market is expected to be worth $70 billion by 2026, according to Acumen Research and Consulting. That’s more revenue than Cisco produced over the course of the past four reported quarters, pointing to a tremendous growth opportunity and a huge potential positive catalyst for Cisco stock.
Current and prospective owners of Cisco stock may not want to celebrate just yet, however. Other players are gunning for a piece of that market. The aforementioned Ciena is one of them. NeoPhotonics (NYSE:NPTN) is another. Infinera (NASDAQ:INFN) is still another.
Only a handful of players can offer a soup-to-nuts solution, though.
Jimmy Yu, vice president and industry analyst for the Optical Transport program with Dell’Oro Group, explains: “Once Cisco concludes this acquisition, four optical system vendors will have in-house capability for developing and producing the key components for coherent line cards. The four system vendors are Cisco, Ciena, Huawei, and Infinera.”
Of the four, Cisco stands out as the one most operators are willing to bet will be around and available into the future, with the least risk of running into political turbulence. That’s good news for CSCO and Cisco stock price.
The 5G-driven growth of Cisco’s coherent technology arm may not materialize until next year, but given its potential, Cisco stock could plausibly start to reflect that opportunity this year.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can learn more about him at his website jamesbrumley.com, or follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.
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