Nothing comes easy to networking specialists these days -- or to their investors.

Optical networking systems builder Ciena (Nasdaq: CIEN) is the latest case in point, falling nearly 16% on a disappointing earnings report. The company lost $0.24 per share on $418 million of second-quarter revenue, in both cases much worse than analyst estimates and at the bottom end of management's sales forecast.

CEO Gary Smith still claimed to be stealing market share from rivals including Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) in "all key optical market segments." Sales jumped 65% year over year on the back of acquiring the Metro Ethernet Networks of bankrupt competitor Nortel. That growth requires heavy investments on both the capital expenditure and operational levels, which hurts margins across the board. Smith insists that it's money well-spent.

Management brought up smartphones and digital video as obvious growth drivers in its industry. Ciena's focus is on long-haul connections: Its largest customer is AT&T (NYSE: T), but the company also serves a slew of smaller telecom service providers from CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) to Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR). Hence, slow Ciena sales often indicate a low level of infrastructure spending in the telecom industry.

Smith would tell you otherwise as he explained to analysts that the current backhaul buildouts should continue over the foreseeable future. "We are seeing a couple of our larger customers come back, one in particular," he said. "We believe that's a multiyear program, so we think that's very sustainable."

Nevertheless, Ciena's third-quarter sales guidance landed far below analyst models. I don't think this is an isolated case of poor sales but a symptom of an industrywide malaise -- Ciena may very well gain market share despite disappointing growth if everyone else is doing even worse. I'm not alone in this view as Alcatel-Lucent and Infinera (Nasdaq: INFN) both fell by nearly 5% on Ciena's bad news.

Long term, networking equipment remains a terrific business. It's just running into some troubling trends in a shorter perspective. Ciena shares have gained a market-beating 47% over the last year even after today's fall, which shows plenty of long-term investor confidence in this stock.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Infinera. The Fool has created a bull call spread position on Cisco Systems. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of AT&T, Cisco Systems, and Infinera. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.