Where Will Cisco's Buying Binge End?

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Lean times create awesome opportunities. If you have money to spend, you'll find a few great deals.

And I'm not just talking about us individual investors shoveling cash into truly great businesses that are trading at a discount to their true worth. Networking giant Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) already spent a few billion dollars on buyouts this year, and it's not closing its outsized wallet yet. Today, Cisco bought mobile communications specialist Starent Networks (Nasdaq: STAR  ) for $2.9 billion in straight cash.

Starent brings along an impressive portfolio of customers for its mobile infrastructure products. The list includes both Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) here in North America, as well as China Telecom (NYSE: CHA  ) and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD  ) abroad.

Not that Cisco didn't already have a set of mobile networking technologies -- the company can supply every piece of hardware you need to build a WiMAX network in Kazakhstan, for example. But Cisco is paying a meager 20% buyout premium to add Starent's heft to its own. The combination creates a single brand that translates into "rich, quality multimedia experiences to mobile subscribers on 3G and 4G networks," according to Starent CEO Ashraf Dahod.

Management expects the deal to start adding to Cisco's pro forma earnings by 2012. Starent has a stellar track record of earnings growth in recent years, and it comes with a highly committed management team that owns a significant portion of the company. If Cisco treats them right, Starent’s leaders should become highly effective lieutenants in their new home.

Including today's 17% pop, Starent's share price has tripled in 12 months. I don't think Cisco's spending spree is over yet. What will the networking titan buy next? Share your educated guesses in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Sprint Nextel is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

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