Demand for network equipment is slowly improving, and the company's massive restructuring efforts continue to make it less reliant on low-margin hardware sales.

By TheStreet Staff Feb 26, 2013 6:51PM

Cisco logo at the technology company's campus in San Jose, California © Robert Galbraith/Newscom/ReutersBy Richard Saintvilus, TheStreet

 

This earnings season hasn't been kind to techs stocks.


But after several companies reported subpar financial results and lowered guidance, Cisco Systems (CSCO) has emerged as a sector standout. The networking giant continues to make a case for why it is one of the best bargains in the stock market. 

 

Cisco's fiscal-second-quarter revenue rose 5% from the same period a year earlier and were up 2% from the previous quarter. The quarterly financial results suggest that the San Jose, Calif, company is successfully navigating its transition out of its hardware business.


Cisco's core routing and switching businesses, which has struggled, continued to erode in the three months  ended Jan. 26. But the company has dedicated a sizable portion of its $45 billion cash hoard to pick up companies such as Meraki, Cariden and BroadHop that can help with its diversification plans.

 

It's been a long time coming, but in parts of the country the cost of electricity produced by solar panels is less than the price paid for a comparable unit of power from the utility grid.

By TheStreet Staff Feb 25, 2013 4:24PM

thestreet logoSolar panelsBy Dana Blackenhorn

 

Something quite extraordinary has been happening over the last three months: Solar stocks are back.

 

Most survivors of the shakeout from the last few years have gained in the range of 40% to 60%, with the TAN (TAN) ETF up 58% and the KWT (KWT) ETF 66% higher. The U.S. industry's "bell cow," First Solar (FSLR), trails the field with a gain of 47%.

 

The leader by far is SunPower (SPWR), which has soared 230% over the last three months. After falling as low as $3.71 last summer, the company, which is majority owned by France's oil and gas giant Total (TOT), now trades at $13 per share.

 

A new survey shows that advertising for Windows 8 and the touch-screen Surface tablet has helped raise product awareness and brand likability.

By Minyanville.com Feb 22, 2013 7:32PM
Surface tabletBy Minyanville Minyanville on MSN Money

For more than a decade, Apple (AAPL) has been synonymous with technological cool, its MacBooks, iPods and iPhones the preferred gadgets by the trendsetting creative class. And Microsoft (MSFT), the red-hot brand in the '90s, has more recently been seen as the stodgy competitor whose products are highly valued only in the enterprise world, where utility trumps aesthetics. (Microsoft owns MSN Money.)

However, Microsoft has gotten an image boost in the past year, thanks in large part to heavy promotion of its new Surface tablets.

The changing perceptions around Microsoft is reflected in a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, in which half of those between the ages of 18 and 29 said the software giant is cooler today than it was a year or two ago.

Of course, Apple has no reason to despair. The survey found that 60% of respondents thought that the Cupertino, Calif., company is cooler than ever. But the survey's surprise is that Apple no  longer has a lock on hipness.
 

The Chinese company is the one major carrier in the world without access to Apple's smartphone. But that could be about to change.

By TheStreet Staff Feb 22, 2013 6:22PM

thestreet logoChina flagBy Chris Ciaccia

 

China Mobile (CHL) is the one major carrier in the world without Apple's (AAPL) iPhone. Qualcomm (QCOM) may be about to change that.

 

Qualcomm this week announced a new Long Term Evolution (LTE) chipset, the RF360 Front End Solution, which for the first time offers a truly global 4G LTE design for mobile devices. It can run on all seven modes, including LTE-FDD, LTE-TDD, WCDMA, EV-DO, CDMA 1x, TD-SCDMA and GSM/EDGE.

 

That's important, because China Mobile's 3G network is TD-SCDMA-based, though it is working on a 4G network with its own homegrown technology. Part of the reason Apple has not brought the iPhone to the world's largest carrier is that the technologies did not match up.


But the new Qualcomm chip may change that.

 

Next-generation consoles may be capable of killing cable television, if consumers can be convinced they're home entertainment systems and not 'just video game machines.'

By MSN Money Partner Feb 20, 2013 8:47PM


Sony PlayStationBy Josh Herr, The Fiscal Times  The Fiscal Times on MSN Money


Sony (SNE), the troubled Japanese electronics company, may have one last big chance to dominate the television universe again.


But it won’t be because of 3-D TV, 4K TV, Blue-Ray DVDs or other such technology.  At an event tonight in New York, the company is announcing the “future of the PlayStation,” which most think could be the future of television.

 

After seven long years, PlayStation 3, one of the two big names in gaming consoles, is getting an upgrade.  Experts think it’s going to be big. This is hardly a surprise. Microsoft's (MSFT) pending announcement of the Xbox 720 has been the worst-kept secret in gaming for months now. (Microsoft owns MSN Money.)


The current generation of consoles is now well past the typical five-year lifespan for such gadgets. Gamers and developers have been screaming for updated hardware that would allow them to take advantage of advances in graphics and software that the current boxes just can’t handle.

 

Why we care

Media commentators and industry observers have been debating whether consoles are dead or dying -- whether Sony and Microsoft lost a loyal user base by waiting so long to update their hardware.


Why do we care?  Because millions of people globally have made gaming an $82 billion a year business. So no one will be surprised why Sony is banking on its new product. 


The bigger question is . . . what is it going to be? The obvious answer is that it will be a video game machine, but increasingly the definition of a gaming console is fuzzy.


Think back to 1972 when Atari rolled out Pong -- originally a machine that let you play digital ping pong. The success of Pong inspired a first-generation of home consoles in the early '80s that expanded the concept. From the classic Atari 2600 through the Nintendo era, the cartridge model ruled the gaming world. 


The '90s brought CD-Rom gaming and eventually DVDs. The technology might have improved, but the process remained the same. Customers purchased the hardware and then bought packaged software titles incrementally.


Apps for free

But that model, like many of the older technology models, is increasingly under threat in the digital age, as consumers grow used to downloading apps and streaming content from the cloud.


The traditional economics of console systems is challenging. The next generation of gaming boxes will retail for around $399. A single (new) video game runs $60, and there is much speculation that the additional resources required to develop for the new high-end graphics cards will drive the price of an individual game even higher. For an average family struggling through the recession, that’s an awful lot of money to spend just to play a video game.


Additionally, the used-game market has done much to gut the industry. Unlike music, gamers are much less likely to pull out an old favorite from even so much as two years ago. With a few exceptions, when a player is done with a game, which can typically take two or three months, he’s done forever.


This led to the rise of stores such as GameStop (GME), which built a business around the second-hand market. An experienced shopper knows that a $60 game will be available for $30 in six months. And with games becoming bigger and more involved, a gamer may buy no more than two or three games a year.


Too many gamers?

Ironically, the industry has also been damaged by the proliferation of gamers. Typically, the image of a "gamer" has been that of a shy loner with poor social skills. (An image the media often cites in the wake of events like Newtown). The download statistics on runaway successes like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja prove that everyone from tiny kids to Dick Cheney is now a gamer.


Those gaming apps for mobile devices run $4.99 or less, and often are available for free  -- a price that's pretty hard to beat. Last year, the U.S. market for new video games totaled $7.1 billion, according to the NPD Group. Spending on used and rented games reached $1.8 billion. And digital gaming downloads and subscriptions, including mobile and social gaming, totaled $5.9 billion. So traditional sales represented less than half of the  total, and spending on physical content fell 21% as sales of digital content grew 16%.


The trends are pretty clear, and as mobile app makers roll out increasingly more sophisticated, engaging and cheaper games for phones and tablets, the question becomes "what is the point of buying a console?"


The smartphone actually answers that question best. Consumers tend to view these devices as phones with a fair share of bells and whistles, but they don’t often consider the shear bulk of standalone devices that the iPhone and its ilk have rendered obsolete. The Palm Pilot, point-and-shoot cameras, Walkmen/Discmen/iPods, day planners, Gameboys, the watch, the map, the compass and the daily newspaper have all been turned into relics of a bygone age, replaced with one single convenient device.


Cable killer?

This is the model that tech giants have long pursued in the battle for your living room, competing to supply the Internet-connected hub of a multi-pronged, multi-screen entertainment experience. In the same way that the smartphone has replaced all of those more limited devices, the PS4 and the Xbox 720 will likely take aim at all of those boxes under your TV: the DVD player, the DVR, the streaming device and -- most importantly -- the cable box.


For many owners of gaming boxes, this is already a reality. A large selling point of the PS3 was that it featured a Blu-ray player at a cheaper price than standalone Blu-ray players. Currently most streaming video services are available through PS3 and Xbox players. In fact, more people are using PS3’s to stream Netflix to their TV than any other single device.


There are of course cheaper standalone streaming devices, such as the Roku. But the next generation of consoles could mean the death of cable television as we know it.


The new machines will be a one-stop shop for all media needs. The ability to access your files on networked computers, download movies and music from the PlayStation store, and customize music channels will still be an important part of the package. And of course, unlike the Roku, the PlayStation plays top-of-the-line games.


Cable television providers, with their continued lock on premium content, are most threatened.

HBO’s refusal to release HBO Go to non-subscribers shows that media and cable companies like HBO’s parent, Time Warner (TWX), know what would happen if customers could get their "Game of Thrones" fix without having to pay for the Cooking Channel or the Golf Channel.


Sports, news and other live events have also kept home users bound to cable, but services such as the MLB.TV live streaming package allow subscribers to get all of their favorite team’s games directly through a Roku, PS3, Xbox 360 and both Samsung and Apple TVs.


The winning box

As all of these individual boxes and services increasingly overlap, it’s easy to imagine that they will eventually be integrated into one single box that serves all of our various devices and screens. The maker of that winning box could rule the market.


Console owners are already accustomed to using the devices in this manner, so it’s not hard to see them upgrading to a new generation of PlayStation or Xbox. But for Sony or Microsoft to really break through, they will have to convince traditional home entertainment users that the new products are much more than "just video game machines."


With Sony’s announcement, we’ll have a better sense of whether the next PlayStation will be a real step toward that future or another sign of a company struggling to recapture its past.


More from The Fiscal Times

 

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