Late last month, Cisco CEO John Chambers sent a small wave through the small and medium sized networking market when he suggested during a discussion with European press members that the company's Linksys brand of networking equipment will "all come, over time, into a Cisco brand."
Officials at both the mothership that Chambers steers and the sidecar attached to it that is Linksys were quick to defuse whatever potential meaning could be gleaned from the curious statement from the usually Teflon-tight Chambers. And despite the backtracking, the comment has succeeded in vaulting this ongoing debate of whether Linksys should be brought under the Cisco brand back into the spotlight.
It seems clear that the time has come for this to happen.
When Cisco bought the strongly performing SOHO networking equipment manufacturer in 2003, the networking world, and Cisco's approach to it, was quite different from that which exists today. The powerhouse from Santa Clara had firmly established itself as the dominant provider of switches and routers to a computing market eager to gobble up the high-quality gear that formed the plumbing of the ever-expanding Internet.
With the enterprise and service provider markets neatly wrapped up, and with millions of consumers moving beyond having a mere single computer within their abodes and looking to link them up to form simple networks, it seemed a natural move for Cisco to move, however quietly, into the soon-to-be-burgeoning home market.
They therefore went out and bought one of its best players, and also made the astute move of leaving the Linksys name alone, realizing that the power of the brand was powerful enough as it was.
Four years later, things have changed. Thanks to a number of initiatives that have reached out to the average Joe who really doesn't know a router from a ratchet, Cisco has done a reasonably successful job of making itself known within the collective psyche of the everyday citizenry. Examples of this movement include the Human Network campaign and purchasing the naming rights to the soon-to-be-opened Oakland A's ballpark, to be known as Cisco Field.
Because of this newfound awareness of the Cisco name, the primary reason for maintaining the Linksys brand has essentially disappeared. It now makes sense for Cisco to come to market with a streamlined set of products under one name, helping to eliminate any confusion for potential purchasers.
There's also a danger for the company not to make the change. While Cisco has been recognized as a maker of reliable networking gear amongst the enterprise/service provider set for a number of years, it seems like the brand could become a bit of a buzzword for cool, cutting-edge technology amongst the consumer crowd as well -- if Chambers and his team play their cards right.
The Linksys name, however, runs the risk of being perceived as something associated with networking technology from a bygone era, when the Internet was something quite different from what it is today. Slapping the Cisco name on Linksys gear could provide a nice little splash of pizzazz, at just the right time.