Cisco Systems president and chief executive officer John Chambers said he would welcome a partnership with telecommunications equipment maker Nortel Networks.
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"I believe in strategic partnerships. I would love to have Nortel as a partner," Chambers said.
However, he downplayed the notion that Cisco might buy Nortel.
"I don't know how to do large acquisitions," Chambers said, but added, "Never say never."
Chambers has said many times that partnerships tend to be less difficult and risky than acquisitions.
William Owens, president and chief executive officer of Nortel, said he had not talked to Chambers about partnerships but Nortel would be open to discussions.
Chambers' comments followed a comment by Owens that Nortel expected to put a growing emphasis on partnerships, according to Nortel spokeswoman Tina Warren.
A partnership between the two companies might benefit both, as Nortel is much more established in the service-provider equipment business while Cisco is stronger in enterprise gear, said Dave Passmore an analyst at Burton Group.
"I could see why Cisco would view Nortel as not being much of a competitor [in some areas] but instead being someone it would partner with to better crack the service provider space," Passmore said.
Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service