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Nortel networks:how innovation and vision created a network giant

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Bang, bang: welcome to the culture of speed. Blur the Canadian origins. Ramp up international sales, especially to the U.S. Establish useful corporate alliances. Out go sluggish and dated product lines. Bye bye, redundant employees. Whoosh, grab companies with useful technologies like Bay Networks. Oops, down goes the stock price. Pull back, holding your breath. That's the story of Canada's Nortel Networks in a nutshell. More comprehensive detail about how Nortel established the groundwork for Internet-based corporate networks on wireless communications and fiber-optics connections is offered in Larry MacDonald's Nortel Networks: How Innovation and Vision Created a Network Giant. Nortel started out in the late 19th century as the telephone-manufacturing arm of Bell Canada, originally building telephones based on the designs of a leading U.S. telecom manufacturer, Western Electric Co. For a time it also produced a host of consumer electrical products like fire alarms and radios, and served as a major supplier for the Canadian military during WW II. But by the late 1960s, Nortel began exploring digital telephone switches, long before other telecommunications companies, including U.S. behemoth AT&T, which became its eventual customer. In 2000, Nortel was spun off as an independent corporation by its parent company. MacDonald, a technology writer for various newspapers, including the Ottawa Citizen and the Financial Post, and a former Canadian federal government economist, ably documents Nortel's history with a mixture of reportage and analysis. He calls the government's sanctioning of Nortel's monopolistic position as the preferred supplier for Bell Canada "a covert industrial policy"--one that allowed the company to grow into the international player that it is. What's in store for the future? MacDonald speculates that Nortel and its California-based competitor Cisco Systems will join forces. But then who would want to risk a bet on any predictions in the topsy-turvy world of technology? --Paul Weinberg
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