Wire buys wireless

Two weeks ago, we noted Trapeze Networks had been sold without indicating what company had been sitting across the table from the wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure vendor. The buyer can now be named: Belden. The St. Louis-based company is more known for its wiring and cable products. (Indeed, before inking the Trapeze deal, Belden’s previous deal had been the $195m purchase of a Hong Kong cable company.) We’ll have a full report on this transaction – and the implications for the sector – in tonight’s Daily 451.

While the pairing of a wireless company with a company known for its wires may seem odd, there are actually a fair number of points that make sense for Belden-Trapeze. For starters, Belden is viewed in the WLAN market as a neutral vendor, which means that Trapeze’s sales arrangements shouldn’t be threatened by the acquisition. We would contrast that with the fallout from Cisco’s early 2005 purchase of Airespace, which forced Airespace partners Alcatel and Nortel Networks to scramble to find a replacement supplier of WLAN technology after the deal. Also, Trapeze had decent sales in Europe and Asia, markets that Belden has targeted.

In the end, however, it all comes back to money. In that sense, the Trapeze deal shows how steeply the valuations of the WLAN infrastructure vendors have come down. The multiple in this deal was two-thirds lower than the level that Cisco paid three years ago in its purchase to get into this market. (Granted, Cisco has a reputation of skewing the market with top-dollar bids.) Still, Trapeze exited for $133m after raising about $100m in venture funding. We understand that rival Meru Networks is currently out raising another round. The company already counts Lehman Brothers, Clearstone Venture Partners, Sierra Ventures and DE Shaw among its investors. While Meru may well land an up round, we’re guessing Trapeze’s valuation – combined with Aruba Networks’ rough ride on the Nasdaq – certainly haven’t helped those conversations. 

WLAN vendor valuations

Company Acquirer Price Price-to-TTM sales ratio
Airespace Cisco $450m 7.5x*  
Trapeze Belden $133m 2.3x  
Aruba NA $467m market cap 2.7x  

*estimated, Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase