Nortel postpones optical, Ethernet unit auction

Nortel Networks (OTCBB:NRTLQ) has postponed the auction of its Metro Ethernet Networks unit, which was scheduled to be held today.

“In light of ongoing discussions with interested parties, [Nortel] has decided to not hold the previously scheduled auction today in relation to the sale of its global Optical Networking and Carrier Ethernet businesses,” the company said in a statement today. “Qualified bidders are now required to submit offers by November 17, 2009.”

The news puts a damper on Ciena (NASDAQ:CIEN), whose $521-million stalking-horse bid for Nortel’s assets (that’s slightly less than half of the unit’s 2009 revenue) would catapult its stature globally and domestically.

Other potential bidders may include Ericsson, Nokia Siemens, Huawei, Tellabs, Cisco, and Infinera. In October, one analyst suggested that interest among potential buyers had waned in recent months, a notion that seems to bear more credence now that Nortel is seeking more time to attract alternative bids. More recently, however, UBS analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos called NSN a “likely active bidder” that could push the purchase price above $750 million.

Nortel originally announced that the unit was up for sale back in September 2008, during a particularly harrowing time for the global economy. The company rescinded that offer seven months later and then, a month after that, admitted it was again talking to potential buyers about a sale.

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