Good News, Part 2 - Acme Packet

Picking up from yesterday's post, here's another good news item of note. Acme Packet has done more than anyone else to personify the session border controller space and has emerged as the clear market leader. It's one thing to be number one in your market, but it's even better when you're dominant, as is the case with Acme. I've written about Acme many times, and a quick search on my blog will take you to posts that help explain how they got to be this way.

Earlier this week I was briefed on their latest news in advance of next week's Mobile World Congress, and that embargo was lifted today. There are really two threads to this good news story, and I'll touch on each separately.

First would be their Q4 2009 earnings, which has largely been re-hashed by the financial analyst community. Being an industry analyst, I'm more focused on the business metrics than the earnings, and even just a few numbers tells a lot.

On the finance side, it's hard to ignore the basics:

- Revenues are at critical mass now - $141.5 million in 2009. When I began following them back as a tiny startup, let's just say the numbers were a lot smaller. 2010 is looking even better - they expect 30% growth, which will put them on track for about $185 million.

- Net income was $17.1 million, up 47% from 2008. This isn't huge, but they're making money, folks, and profits are up sharply.

- Money in the bank - $175 million. Wow - that's pretty healthy, especially when you consider they absorbed Covergence last May, and there's not much left out there competition-wise that's worth buying. Maybe Sipera or Sansay. Being public, no doubt the portfolio managers will be watching closely to see what they do with that stash. They'd either have to move sideways and acquire related or complementary technologies - perhaps firewalls or routers - or make a big upward move to acquire someone much bigger but less stable. I'd bet on the former if they do anything at all.

Speaking of being a public company, it's also worth noting that Acme's share price has recovered very nicely from last fall, when they were under $4, and is now up near $14. Going public cuts both ways, but with their current momentum, Acme looks about as good as it gets for companies in this space.

Financials aside, the customer footprint really tells the story for me. I'd say the most impressive metric is customers - 980 and counting. I don't know if they'll have a special prize for customer #1,000, but that will be a nice milestone to hit. Keeping pace with their strong financial metrics, Acme added 235 customers last year. I'll bet it takes a few years for a lot of companies to add that many. I should also add that almost 20% of their customers are enterprises, so Acme is more than just a carrier play.

Unlike Vonage, where churn is a fact of life, and ARPU is hard to grow, Acme doesn't lose many customers, and most of them have a lot of upside for SBCs, as the migration from circuit to packet continues. Finally, it's worth adding that Acme is truly global, with customers in 104 countries.

Enough said. The second strand of news was announced today in a rather long, complex press release. The news covers three big updates to their Net-Net portfolio.

First is the Net-Net SIP Multimedia-xpress. This update focuses on the challenges service providers face with IMS compliance, which has proven slow to materialize. Acme has come up with an "IMS equivalent alternative", with the idea being to provide a lower cost, more flexible way to help carriers introduce new SIP services in a scalable manner. The focus is on time-to-market, which carriers desperately need to stay competitive.

Second would be their Net-Net SBC Cluster/Session-Aware Load Balancer. That's a mouthful, and all I can say is that it enables SIP multimedia applications on a large scale. And they do mean large - up to 2 million subscribers. That's a big number, and I can't validate that for you, but clearly, Acme is aiming high here. Bottom line is that Tier 1 operators are adopting IP at a fast rate now - especially with mobile - and it won't take long for them to support services on this scale.

The third element is the Net-Net Route Manager. This seems more straightforward, and supports more centralized management of SIP routing across the network, which may have many nodes across many geographies.

I'll be the first to say this is a simplified summary of the enhancements, and the details are simply too technical for me to explore further. SBCs are complex, and I'm not the only analyst out there who can only digest Acme's news at a high level. Most network elements are fairly intuitive, but Acme has taken SBCs to a very advanced level, and even their press release - which should only be 1-2 pages - requires 5 pages to explain it.

I'm not technical enough to say whether this complexity is by design, and I'll take it on faith that all these enhancements are going to make life better for operators. If you want a higher comfort level, I suggest you talk to an Engineer. However, from my vantage point, I believe Acme has a strong story to tell, and have no doubt the carriers at MWC next week will be a great point of validation for them.