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Will Juniper acquire its way into WLAN?

The Financial Times (FT) website reported rumors today that Juniper Networks is interested in acquiring either Meru Networks or Aruba Networks — both WLAN providers.

FT attributes the rumors to sources close to the company, but also quotes two analysts that support the speculation.

A WLAN acquisition for Juniper wouldn’t be shocking. At this point, Juniper needs to secure its place in the WLAN market if it intends to take on Cisco. Cisco controls a dominant share of that market sector, which it bought its way into through the acquisition of Airespace in 2006. Juniper is in the process of reorganizing its executive team and strategy, and has made no bones about its goal of stealing a dominant share of the enterprise networking market from Cisco.

What’s more, Juniper has already taken steps into the WLAN market. In 2006, Juniper invested in WLAN provider Trapeze Networks, launching an alliance between the two companies that had the channels cross-selling product. Many speculated then that Juniper would end up acquiring Trapeze. Instead Belden Cable stepped in and picked up Trapeze, making it one of a long string of WLAN companies to be acquired by major players.

Meanwhile, if a Juniper WLAN acquisition goes down, it will put to rest any doubt that consolidation is prevailing in the market, leaving little room for the independent players. The WLAN sector is increasingly characterized by heavy hitters like Hewlett-Packard (which recently acquired WLAN provider Colubris), Cisco, Belden and Motorola that have WLAN divisions based on acquisitions.

Meru is one of the few remaining privately held WLAN companies with a large channel presence besides Extricom and Ruckus. Ruckus is scrapping for attention, releasing upgraded technology this week to push its way into the enterprise. Aruba went public in 2007 and is considered a market leader.

Juniper has yet to comment on these rumors.

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