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Ciena Corporation (NYSE:CIEN)

Deutsche Bank dbAccess Technology Conference Call

September 12, 2013 11:10 am ET

Executives

James E. Moylan, Jr. – Senior Vice President-Finance and Chief Financial Officer

Mark Bieberich – Senior Director-Marketing Intelligence

Analysts

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

Okay, as everyone is getting settled and we’ll go ahead and get started. Welcome to Day 3 of the Deutsche Bank Technology Conference. So, good morning to everyone. Kicking off with Ciena; Ciena as many of you know is a leading supplier of optical systems to telcos and increasingly to the non-telcos.

With us today we have Jim Moylan, the CFO. We have Mark Bieberich, who’s actually has a lot of the strategic analysis, and he’s got some insights on competitive analysis and industry trends. And Gregg Lampf, who is the Director of Investor Relations at Ciena. I think Jim, you wanted to start with a couple of slides? And after that we’re going to jump right into Q&A, so have your questions ready, this should be an interesting discussion.

James E. Moylan, Jr.

Obviously, I want to say that, there is a shift in network architecture, which is now underway. And it has to do with changing to high capacity, high speed transport, changing the switching protocols from a SONET SDH protocol to an OTN protocol and also a much higher percentage of packet traffic, Ethernet traffic. Ethernet is becoming the currency of the language of business services in this country and around the world.

So all of these sort of culminate in a real architectural shift, which is going on in the industry. We’ve seen these shifts in the past. The shift 10 years ago was the SONET SDH. We’re now underway on this new shift.

And in these shifts, they tend to be of long duration, there tends to be a pretty big spin as networks come into this new architecture. The drivers for this are really on both sides, both on the customer side and on the supplier side.

On the customer side they continue to see enormous growth in network demand for 10 years at least and there doesn’t seem to be any intuit with mobile devices, with the coming cloud applications, with the fact that we’re going to have machine-to-machine traffic. There is going to be continued growth in network demand.

On the other side of that, you have network providers who are not seeing their revenue grow at rates above sort of low to mid-single digits. So they need massive capacity that allows them to put that capacity at low cost. They need to operate it using software as opposed to manual truck rolls and they need to be able to turn up services as quickly as they can so they can get the revenue on their new lengths. That’s the kind of gear that assess.

We sell gear and services which are heavily software intensive to most of the network operators in the world from the AT&Ts and Verizon, British Telecom, France Telecom, other places around the world and our gear is specifically designed to allow them to grow their networks, to have the minimal OpEx and also using software to provision services. That’s what we do.

I’m going to just quickly move through slides to give you a little more than that. I would say that, we style ourselves as the network specialist. We’ve never tried to do all things for everybody. We’re thrilled about layer zero to 2.5 company from EDGE to or access, I should say, into the core. That’s what we do. As we’ll probably talk about later on there is a coming convergence in competitive battle ground between Layer 2.5 up to Layer 3 and that’s something that we’re seeing more and more as we advance our technology, but we’re still going to remain special.

One thing I’d say about this business, it’s very competitive and innovation is absolutely required, that means that you have to spend money. We spend almost $400 million a year on R&D to keep ahead of the pack, and we do have a lead right now, we have a lead on the pack and we intend to maintain it.

And then finally with respect to relationships, we do focus a lot of time on the relationships, which we have with our customers, I think that’s a differentiator for us. We do annually independent third-party survey of our customers and they tend to site that that’s the reason why they like to do business with Ciena, we think that’s very important.

I’ll just point this out; these are not our numbers, but the numbers by industry analysts like Delaware and Cisco, and those kinds of people. They project with the growth of the cloud, with the growth of machine-to-machine transport continuing growth, and we don’t see any reason why this is not going to continue in network demand.

Our architecture restyled is open, optical, and packet to the degree of meeting tremendous scalability of capacity, a lot of software to adapt to the uncertain flows that are going through networks today, and then finally where we are today is developing network level apps, which will open the things that will give operators rapid service creation, ability to analyze what’s going on in their networks and respond with software and then finally open interfaces. I think I have covered all of this.

One thing that I didn’t mentioned is that, we are very much a different company than we were even five years ago. We made a big acquisition; we bought the MEN division of Nortel three years ago. That allowed us to expand our footprint both in terms of customers and geographically. We now sell into our top 20 customers. We sell to 16 of them into multiple applications, which means that we are not dependent to say on a Verizon long-haul for our future with Verizon. We are selling to Verizon for a long time even after they complete their long-haul rollout if they ever do.

Just to look at market share for a moment; this is North America next-gen networking market share and then globally. You can see that we have done a good job in North America. Of course the acquisition of Nortel occurred in 2010 and so there is a bit of a trick there, but even after that acquisition, we continued to gain market share. This stops in 2012 and 2013 is the year where we are starting to see big rollouts by the big Tier-1 carriers in the U.S. So I think I don’t know this to be true, but I believe the direction of that line is going to continue upward into 2013 and beyond.

Globally you can see that Huawei is the number one market share company, that we’ve achieved the number two status as of 2012 and you can see that Alcatel-Lucent really has been declining in market share as a result of the difficulties they have had in integrating that acquisition.

And finally, just to give you a little bit of a tactical information; we just reported our quarter about a week and a half ago. You can see that we reported $538 million of revenue and that our gross margins were 43.6%, a little higher than we expected and just a bit about our gross margins because there’s a lot of questions about them.

Our gross margins are very difficult to predict even for ourselves with accuracy. In each of our segments we have a slightly different or for each of our segments we have a slightly different margin profile.

Within each of those segments there are different products, which have different margin profiles and then we have a concept of razor and razor blades in most of our products in which we typically sell lightly loaded chassis at the beginning of the project and then and that allows for a certain level of capacity and as demand on the network grows we add cards to provide additional capacity on those network. So comments the early part of networks are lower margins cards or higher margin and that’s the way it’s going to be.

So when we enter a quarter and we’re trying to predict our margins or enter a year, trying to predict our margins, we have to make a lot of guesses about the mix of all of those pieces and we get wrong sometimes. As we came into this year, we reported margins of 40.7% in 2012. We thought we’d do a little bit better than that this year. The world took – and that’s what we convey to the world in our guidance.

The world conveyed that or interpreted [ph] that I should say to mean about mid 40s type margins for this year. We’ve actually done better than that. We’ve done mid, 42.5, something like that, which is indicative of number one, we are getting a better mix this year; number 2, we do have some overheads which are spread over a bigger base and that’s helping margins; and number 3, it is difficult for us to predict our margins.

Having said all of that, this is the guidance we gave for Q4 and I would just summarize what our messages to the world is right now is that we are well positioned. I believe we are at the best positioned company in our space for this network architectural shift, which is underway. I think we have a multi-year opportunity to continue to gain market share at the expense of others in the industry and we’re looking forward to some very nice years ahead of us.

With that, I’m going to stop and you can ask the questions that you want to ask.

Question-and-Answer Session

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

Sure. Jim, we’ll continue on the field of the gross margin. So you talked about that that we’re in the early means of this multi-year cycle. Does that mean – that obviously typically means then lots of boxes and not as many cards in at least initially. So we’re still kind of in this in terms of the mix. Are we still early in terms of another, which is we get into, say 2015 we’re going to see better mix of line cards to boxes, is that the way we should think of it, in other words think of it as margins will improve they will improve over time?

James E. Moylan, Jr.

Absolutely. Yes. We should think about it that way. I’d mentioned one of the thing about gross margins and that is, we have a very strong position in the Untied States as we’ve shown on our market share chart. A lot of the decisions on the suppliers into this shift, this network shift have been taken over the last couple of years and we’ve done very well in those decisions. We’ve been an incumbent in the U.S. for a long time.

Outside of the U.S., our solutions play very well, but in many cases, we’re an attacker. We don’t have incumbency, which means that not only do we have the phenomenon of chassis and cards we also have the phenomenon of running discounts that enable us to help the operator deal with his switching costs and that’s just a function of the industries.

Since we are attacking internationally, we want some very nice deals internationally. That’s another element that we’re going to see pressure on our margins. In our call last week, we did say that margins were going to come down from the 43.6% in Q4 and we expected that that pressure would continue into Q1. So I just want to put that out there so people understand that over time a good thing affecting our margins would be a higher proportion of cards in our mix, but it’s not in the next couple of quarters.

The other thing that we believe is that with additional software, and I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment, with additional software in our solutions, that’s going to create stickiness with our customers and provide for some help on margins going forward. This has been a very competitive industry. I think it always will be a very competitive industry. But the key is to get your gear in an incumbent position, be able to help the customer develop his network philosophy and architecture going forward and provide that customer with software to help him do that and that’s what our intent is.

Now, I just want to make one qualification or clarification about software. We sell a lot of software capability. Much of it is embedded in our products, so that when you look at our hardware revenue, a meaningful piece of that is software content. If you look at our switching in particular, the capability of our switching is mostly the software content.

If you look at our financial statements, you can identify how much we make as standalone software, it’s a fairly small number, it’s $5 million to $7 million to $9 million a quarter and that is our network management systems and the applications that I talked about and the slides that I showed. So I just want to point out that when we say software is important, it’s not just that relatively small amount of software that we sell in there itself, it’s the software content of our products. Just one other point, I’d make and I’ll make the point and I’ll let Mark continue, and that is that our – the entire sort of secret stars are coherent technology which we brought into the market first on our transport boxes is software based.

So Mark why don’t you.

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

Yes, before Mark, I’d like to – the one thing I think is unique about the technology is the way that they go about moving from 40 to 100, let’s say 200 to 400. So it’s a very unique architecture that use a constant clock rate, then they use advanced DSPs to increase the modulation scheme or the constellation array which means bit per hertz [ph]. And we’re able to use software to either determine they want to shoot a fiber a long distance which has made some ways to short then, and usable fiber usable again particularly important in the trans continental, the submarine fiber market, but also when a customer buys into their architecture, they know they’ve got a very seamless roadmap to grow from 100 to 200 or 400 gigs upto a terabyte and the upgrade is very seamless and it creates a lot of stickiness.

So I want Mark to talk about the architecture as it relates to the win rate and their ability to gain share globally. And then back to the margins after that [indiscernible] may be talk about where the transport side obviously that’s one of the key earlier driver because we bring more technology, we bring more technology in the metro area, what about in Metro Ethernet, and I assume it also drive our margins?

Mark Bieberich

So, as Jim said we were the first market with coherent technology. So we actually deployed our first coherent link back in December of 2009 with Verizon that was Frankfurt to Paris. Since then we have gained more than 100 gig coherent customers, more than a 150 coherent customers overall. So our track record in convincing customers that our coherent technology is the best and the most sophisticated in the marketplace has been very, very strong but what coherent gives our customers is a fundamental new advantage that helps them migrate towards this new architectural design that Jim spoke of before, this new architectural shift that will take place over many years over the next few years.

So what coherent technology does in particular is, it gives customers the ability to trade-off certain attributes according to the kind of services they want to provide according to what kinds of applications they might want to support on their network. So for some of our customers they might need to turn up a very long distance link, go over a submarine connection. In that case, they can use the software content in the digital signaling processor to provision a very, very long distance circuit, but also scale back some of these capabilities of coherent that might not be as important. So, for example, low latency.

Then we have other customers that might just want a very low latency circuit, but it might not be as concerned about something like distance, so before coherent customers had to go along each optical path and manually tune every component in the optical network according to the services that a particular customer might want, now they can use the software flexibility in the digital signaling processor to dynamically provision the kinds of attributes that the customer wants, with whatever application they need to support, whether it’s submarine or enterprise application or if it’s data center interconnection or if it’s regional transports or long-haul transports.

So that level of flexibility is absolutely critical. It also helps customers lower their costs to a large extent, because coherent for example, has capabilities to compensate for effects like dispersion, it used to be that when you had the provision an optical link you had to have dispersion compensation modules at every certain distance to make sure that the spreading of optical signals was under control now, all of that dispersion compensation capability is embedded in the digital signaling processor, that takes a lot of cost out of the network.

So this transitioned to a coherent optical network is absolutely critical like I said before we were first in markets, we had a very, very strong track record of success in deploying coherent over the last few years. We expect that to continue as Jim said, we have a very strong R&D capability and R&D envelope to support the kind of innovation that’s needed on the part of our customers, so that’s one very critical element of the design that we bring to customers to help them with this long term architectural shift.

We’re also starting to converge not just the coherent capability, but OTN switching and packet switching in our flagship products. That’s also absolutely critical because more and more of the services that our customers need to provision to address the demand on the part of your enterprise customers, their mobile customers and retail customers, if they are a wholesaler, are packet based services, so now we have embedded packet switching in our flagship products, we can turn up Ethernet over wavelength services or Ethernet private lines or Ethernet VPNs all within the same elements that provide customers with the coherent capability.

We can also embed in that same product the ability to switch at the OTN layer, that’s really important because as you go for example, from 10 gig to 40 gig to a 100 gig you need to maximize the utility of every 100 gig wavelength, you need to make sure that none of the bandwidth on each 100 gig channel is wasted, so what OTN switching capability does is it maximizes the utility of every long-haul WDM connection, every line-side or WDM wavelength or WDM channel.

And it also provides customers with a better enhanced failover capability and it gives them a wide range of network topologies they can use to design their networks with.

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

I am trying to understand because essentially what you’re seeing is the shift from the electrical demand to the optical demand of network capacity, will you make optical easier to deploy, easier to manage, more cost effective, you will get more of your traffic move closer to that, and one of the things I mentioned earlier is on the volume side is effective – seeing in the network side a lot of routers, which we can.

About 30% of routing traffic is really bypass, it doesn't need to be routed, it can be switched and now that we have this switching capability in optical, we’re seeing a shift of traffic from routing to the switching, and it’s also creating a demand and a need for this product and services part of what you are seeing in this upgrade and why OTN is a technology that’s going to be very important, so many staff working at 10 gig, above that you need to go to OTN, we are moving to OTN but this is part of what they made of those maybe you can expand on it a little bit.

James E. Moylan, Jr.

Right, so if you actually look at the services that we are hoping our customers delver to their end users and you look at the growth rates of those services and the revenue contribution from those services, more than two-thirds of the services that they are provisioning to their customers do not need to be routed meaning they don’t need to have the kind of packet processing that’s embedded into the routers that are installed in the network today. So these are wavelength services, could be an OTN switch service or could be packet service in Ethernet private line or an Ethernet provision over a wavelength.

So those are the services that are really growing, those are the services that are helping large enterprises interconnect data centers, these are the kinds of services that large enterprises are using to connect to the Internet for example, and even the mid-market and small businesses to mid-market businesses are using Ethernet services now to enable their connectivity, to enable their private networks.

None of those particular services need to be routed, so to Brian’s point we’re seeing customers rethink the role of routers in the network and where much they have IP packet processing capability if many of the high growth services are transitioning to technologies that don’t necessarily need to be routed. So, we’re seeing that shift happen now and we have the kind of capabilities that allow our customers to address those services, at a lower cost point and with the kind of reliability that we’ve been able to provide customers for a very long time.

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

And can you talk about – little bit about the increasing products in terms of rather where you should go and see, where you move, migrate up and what I described earlier in terms of your ability to migrate in terms of data rates relative to competitors and how you took your competitors typically trying to achieve the same results.

James E. Moylan, Jr.

So, the most recent generation of our coherent digital signaling processor is called WaveLogic 3 and what it does is, it gives customers the ability to migrate from 10 gig to 40 gig to a 100 gig through a software change. So what we can do is allow customers to use the same line cards, the same product, the same code based, the same software to migrate to newer bit rates as they see fit which is a big advantage. Before coherent, what we really had were very specific line cards, specific software loads, specific products that enable those kinds of bit rates and customers had to stock those line cards, they had to spare for them, they had to certify each and every part in their network for every additional bit rate that they had to support.

What they have now is fewer cards, fewer processes, fewer ways of having to certify all of those capabilities in their network, that really does lower cost, it gives them a tremendous amount of flexibility and enables them to address services on the part of their end users, very quickly and easily than they never really had before. So that’s a big advantage that we have as well and now we are taking those same technologies and we are giving our customers the ability to beyond 100 gig.

We’ve actually released a few press releases over the last few months that show that we’re either in trials with, for example, 400 gig or 800 gig which was actually the case with BT. So, we are testing these higher bit rates with the same kinds of technologies that we have embedded into our digital signaling processor. We actually have some live deployed circuits at 200 gig today with a couple of customers. So customers know that they need to continue to push the envelope with bandwidth, with capacity creation. As Jim showed, the drivers of bandwidth growth are indisputable. So, we need to continue to innovate, our customers need to continue to test new bit rates, and fortunately our digital signaling processor technology helps them achieve that goal.

Unidentified Analyst

[indiscernible]

Mark Bieberich

And one think, it is important to note that the 100 gig still the currency that’s out and that’s what people are deploying. The importance here is that we provide that flexibility within one platform to go beyond 100 gig when customers are ready to do.

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

In a Phase of deployment I think the big shift that you’re seeing used to be very hard to do, it’s getting less simple and the cost are coming down. Thus far, you’re seeing the shift occur. I know there is questions out there, so I will get the microphone open for those that have them. Real quick Jim, so can you talk a little bit about how the mix might help your margins? And then also, you’ve been kind of sticking your operating expenses around 190 million a quarter, do you see that and how do you see that going into the next year?

James E. Moylan, Jr.

I am going to saw them some place. So obviously come back just for this time….

Mark Bieberich

It’s not that I have a message. We’ve set a target for ourselves of getting to a 7% to 10% operating margin as a percent of revenue. And I know that there are some people, given the history of our business who would look at that and wonder that that’s achievable. I would say that it’s not unprecedented.

If you look back at Ciena from about 2004 to 2008 or middle of 2008, we had 16 quarters of growth in revenue. We got up to 15% to 17% operating profit during that period of time. That period of time was steadily increasing profitability. So it’s not unprecedented and I’d quickly point out that that was an entirely different company than what we have today. We have a much broader company in terms of our product set, in terms of our importance to our customers, our customer spread and our geographic spread. So we think that 7% to 10% is imminently achievable. In fact in this most recent quarter we did 8.2%.

So what I would say is that we also have a goal of getting to even better than that sort of a 10% to 12% number. We’ve said that probably. To do that, we said that we have to do three things; we have to continue to increase our top line, we have to get some margin expansion and we have to hold the growth in our OpEx down to a point where we can get operating leverage. We said that we’d like to see margins in the mid 40s. We’d like to see operating expenses in the low to mid 30s as a percent of revenue. This past quarter OpEx was 35% of revenue.

So we’re heading in the right direction. We’ve also said that it’s not going to be a straight line up. The trend is very strong, but we are going to see some movement around the trend line and we’re focusing though on the longer term.

With respect to the OpEx question, we gave guidance earlier this year. I think at the beginning of the year, we said we would average OpEx in the high 180s absolute per quarter. And if you translate that into an annual OpEx budget, it comes to $750 million to $755 million depending upon how you interpret what we said. That is still our plan.

However, we are going to spend more OpEx than that this year. It has strictly to do with the fact that we are doing much better than we expected on our orders and we’re doing better than we expected on our operating income, both of which are increasing the incentive compensation due to either sales people or the general employee population.

I’ve point out that that’s entirely the difference, save a few million here or there between what we said at the beginning of the year and the end of the year. So we are controlling OpEx.

We said at the end of second quarter that because of this increased incentive comp, we will run OpEx in the mid-190s for the last half of the year and we actually did 190 in Q3. Our plan is still unchanged for the second half of the year and we said that some of the expenses that didn’t occur in Q3 were going to go into Q4 and so we guided to have 190s for Q4. Again, it’s not a change in the trend line. It’s nothing other than the timing of expenses. And did I get to your questions also?

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

You did. So that [indiscernible] you’re dying to ask one too.

Unidentified Analyst

And just a quick financial question and a technology question. If you get to double-digit growth, where could gross margin get to?

That depicts the financial question. And then on technology question, you put out in press release 400 trial would spread from, I think Chicago to Fort Worth. What would it take them to deploy to turn that on?

James E. Moylan, Jr.

Okay, I’ll take the first one and then Mark can do the second. Gross margins are not a function to book our margin for the most part. We’re an outsource company and so we have a variable cost of manufacturing – a variable cost of the product in our cards. We do have a relatively small amount of overheads, which do get spread over an increasing base and so we will get some help from that, but it’s not the biggest part of the picture.

The biggest part of the picture is the mix, and Brian asked a question earlier that I didn’t answer and that is that how do we get to the mid-40s margin. I think that was the genesis of this question. And the way we get there is changing the mix and seeing a little better margins on our transport products and we talked to the transport products. I think that occurs naturally, because we’re going to have a smaller percentage of attacking deals and early-stage deals in our transport mix. I think that happens overtime and we’ll be filling cards.

So that’s going to help. But we have to also sell more switching products, whether they’re OTM switching products or packet switching products or switching cards embedded into our transport products. Those are very, very high software content. As we said, they are sticky and they do carry with them higher margins. So that’s how we are going to get the mid-40s margin. It’s changing our mix overtime, not just a 10% growth rate. Do you have another question?

Mark Bieberich

The Sprint link from Chicago to Fort Worth, and would it take to actually turn that up in a live network deployment. Okay, so today our digital signaling processor can enable 400 gig. We do not yet have the hardware that is commercially available to serve the customer. So we have prototypes and we do work with our customers to push the envelope on next generation technologies, the next best bit rate.

When we first have our 400 gig technology in the marketplace, it will mostly be optimized around metro distances, okay. But we are advancing that technology today to appoint where even within a couple of years, we’re going to start to push distances well beyond natural distances. So the first iteration might be metro level. Second iteration really will address a much larger part of the market. But make no mistake we’re still on the very, very early days of 100 gig deployment.

This year is actually the second year of meaningful 100 gig portion and we still have many, many years of 100 gig growth and the commercial viability of 100 gig is indisputable. And it will continue to improve in terms of economics with our customers over the next few years as well. So our customers are deploying 100 gig very strongly today, they will for the next several years. But the 400 gig technology, we are continuing to develop and we have many customers even beyond Sprint that are testing it and very interested in for a variety of different applications.

Unidentified Analyst

We’re going slightly overturn one more question.

Unidentified Analyst

Yes, thanks, Brian. Even Jim, this is for you. Your non-6,500 transport business, my view is that if it’s commodity life or trend like commodity, like why not run it as one, take some cost quickly out of those product set helps to improve your margins, what are you thoughts there?

James E. Moylan, Jr.

I think we had about $65 million in revenue in that product set, that segment this past quarter. We have reduced the R&D spend on those products to a minimal level. We are still selling these products. We’re not really for the most part, we’re not building them into new applications, which means that they are not exposed to the daily rough and tumble, and we’re not really doing new roll outs.

So we are really filling old networks and we have customers who depend on those products, so we have to continue to spend something on them, but that’s the trade-off that we do. We trade-off customer needs as opposed to we’d like overtime the 6500 is going to be our flagship platform, but we also have commitments to customers that we’re going to make and meet, okay.

Brian Modoff – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.

Thank you, everyone for attending. Thank you, Ciena.

James E. Moylan, Jr.

Thank you, Brian.

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