Lucent gave the first sign of a channel comeback last week after its January merger with Ascend, appointing Siltek Communications as master distributor for its Business Communications Systems unit.
The deal paves the way for resellers to extend their busi-ness into the SME telecommunications market and signals another vote of confidence in Siltek Communications' parent company Siltek Asia-Pacific, which recently acquired Prion.
Questions still remain, however, about the future plans of overall channel strategy and, in particular, its data networking channel, given the committed indirect strategies of competitors such as Cisco, Nortel Networks and Alcatel.
Westcon currently carries the Lucent flag, with a global agreement to distribute its data networking and voice over IP products.
However, Hugh Evans, Siltek Asia-Pacific's managing director, indicated the distributor is hopeful it will also have the opportunity to deal with Lucent's data networking business, but stressed detailed discussions on the topic are yet to take place. "It would make sense for us to distribute that too," he said.
Lucent pitched the Siltek move as a positive break from its history as a direct vendor, with a company spokesperson describing the channel as critical to its ability to access the SME market. But it seems it will have to work hard to shake the direct label.
According to one source close to Lucent who asked not to be named, strategic decisions about the channel have been hampered in the past by fierce internal politics.
"Hong Kong representatives of Ascend came over here and wanted to take over [the channel]," he said.
"That would have been really good," he said. "But instead of building the business they [Lucent] were killing each other."
In response, the Lucent spokeswomen said the company as a whole is focused on developing its channel.
"In the past, BCS may have struggled with its channel strategy," she said. "The intent in this announcement is that Lucent is very interested in the channel."
Mark Leigh, Lucent Technologies' regional president of business communications, Asia-Pacific and China, said the company does not plan to extend its indirect model into areas other than telecommunications at the moment.
"At this stage the plan is to manage the large enterprise directly and the SMEs we will manage with our partners," he said.
The company claims the Siltek deal now provides balance to its history as a direct sales organisation. Leigh said around 40 per cent of telecommunications sales will go through the channel.
Siltek's Evans said the extension of its Lucent partnership follows the companies' relationship which began in April. He added that it is an important step towards capturing a slice of the SME telecommunications equipment market he believes is worth over $400 million a year.
Siltek Communications will work primarily with value-added resellers Nomad Telecommunications, NSC North Shore Connections and Perth-based ACS. Lucent announced last week all three dealers have joined its BusinessPartner Program.