The buzz on Ciena Corp. started Monday morning at the Supercomm telecommunications trade show in Atlanta, where, Bloomberg News reported, "Ciena has a history of making big announcements."
Sure enough, that afternoon Ciena President Patrick H. Nettles revealed a new contract with Cable & Wireless PLC to supply equipment for a high-capacity Internet network the British company is building in the United States.
By the end of the day, Ciena stock was up more than $4 a share at $33.62 1/2, its highest price since last summer, when disappointing earnings and unraveling takeover talks ended Ciena's days as a darling of tech investors. In less than three months, Ciena shares plummeted from almost $90 to under $9.
Ciena stock has pulled back since Monday and is still less than halfway back to its previous peak. But at yesterday's closing price of $31.37 1/2, it has more than doubled since the first of the year.
No longer relegated to explaining "what ever happened to Ciena," Nettles went on CNBC Tuesday to outline his company's role in what telecom mavens say will be "the next big thing"--providing high-capacity communications links to homes and businesses.
Ciena makes gear that dramatically increases the carrying capability of fiber-optic lines. Until now, most of its capacity-building black boxes have been installed in the communications "backbone," the heavy-duty cross-country cables that are the Internet equivalent of the interstate highway system.
Nettles told CNBC that high-capacity service is now moving down to the feeder roads and neighborhood streets. "It's going to hit first for businesses, then for residential customers," he said. "What is left, and the most interesting opportunity I think for us, is really managing the intersections."
Faster Internet connections, the ability to download television programs on demand and much cheaper data transmission for business will result when high-capacity service is extended down from the backbone to the neighborhoods.
Demand for those innovations ought to produce more business for Ciena, but investors still have to be convinced that the company can prosper. In the last month, several analysts have lowered their estimates of Ciena's 1999 earnings, but this week one New York investment boutique, Brean Murray & Co., raised its rating on Ciena stock to "strong buy."
CAPTION: Ciena (This graphic was not available)