Belden-Trapeze acquisition: Partners say so far so good

With the Belden-Trapeze acquisition complete, executives acknowledge there could be channel conflict, but partners are upbeat.

Last week cabling company Belden Inc. completed its acquisition of Trapeze Networks for $133 million, and executives say the wireless LAN company's 200-plus partner channel will remain intact and supported.

"Our partners are pretty excited about this," said Jim Vogt, president of Trapeze, adding that the company will function independently, continue to use its own name and look to further expand the channel.

Because it is so difficult for an independent company to survive in the hotly competitive wireless LAN market, Trapeze partners appear to believe that the acquisition by Belden, a publicly traded company, will strengthen Trapeze's position and give it global reach. A string of small wireless LAN companies have been acquired in recent years.

"This is going to solidify Trapeze and give them the financial backing to continue on in the future," said Dick Stayner, major accounts manager at Valcom, a Trapeze partner in Salt Lake City.

Trapeze can't promise that there won't be channel conflict, since at least a portion of Belden's channel, which dwarfs Trapeze's, will eventually be able to sell the wireless product.

Initially, though, Trapeze partners are likely to see new opportunities, because many Belden partners are not yet trained in wireless technology and can't sell the wireless product until they are. In those situations Trapeze partners will be brought in on Belden deals, Vogt said.

More on Belden's acquisition of Trapeze
Belden buys Trapeze Networks in another WLAN deal

"Now we can put our sales force behind them and go after larger accounts," Vogt said. Belden partners often serve large businesses that could have both wired and wireless networks, or have wireless systems that need extensive behind-the-scenes cabling.

However, it is unclear how Belden partners will take to bringing in Trapeze partners.

"Everybody will want to sell Trapeze and they'll wonder why we're bringing in [our own channel]," Vogt said. "So there will be some conflict there." But he added that there will be "some reward" for taking Trapeze partners into accounts.

A formal award or incentive system hasn't been finalized yet, and the companies are banging out the rules of engagement. Those guidelines must emerge quickly since eventually Belden partners will be trained and may try to cut out Trapeze partners, resulting in channel conflict.

"What the Belden guys are doing now is sorting out where the interest is in the Belden channel, figuring out who would like to step up and extend their business with this offering and whether they have the propensity to do it. Then we are going to have to map our channel list and say, 'Here are my channels by region, and here are yours," Vogt said. He added that it will be like putting the "decoder ring together."

Beyond concerns about channel conflict, partners also hope the Belden acquisition won't change Trapeze's partner-friendly attitude.

Cliff Arellano, president of Trapeze partner Communications Products Inc. (CPI) in Indianapolis, said his company used to work with wireless LAN company Airespace, which was later acquired by Cisco Systems Inc. CPI started working with Cisco but didn't find the super-vendor to be "really partner-friendly," so it switched to Trapeze. CPI has a rosier outlook on the Belden deal since it is already a Belden partner too. Nevertheless, Arellano said he hopes Belden sticks to its word that it will be friendly toward Trapeze partners.

"Belden seems to get the picture, whereas Cisco didn't appear to care," Arellano said.

In the meantime, CPI is testing products from Ruckus Wireless and may eventually incorporate some Ruckus technology into its offering.

Ruckus launched an incentive program to poach unhappy Trapeze partners once the Belden deal was announced. Ruckus marketing vice president David Callisch said the incentive program has drawn new partners, and he gave two examples. CPI was the only Trapeze partner contacted by press time that showed any interest in Ruckus, and Arellano stressed that CPI is moving very slowly with Ruckus and is fully committed to Trapeze.

Arellano said the company "had been stuck once before" with small vendors like Ruckus that were later acquired and weren't the same for partners. Now that Trapeze has been purchased by Belden, he said, it is definitely stable.

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