Bill Cheek, President of Wholesale Markets, CenturyLink - Allstars

Bill Cheek, President of Wholesale Markets for CenturyLink, has spent a good part of his career selling wholesale services to other carriers.

Prior to becoming part of the new CenturyLink team Cheek also oversaw wholesale operations not only at the former EMBARQ, but also Sprint Business and Sprint Local Telephone Division (the precursor to EMBARQ) in wholesale services.

But what the 32-year telecom veteran has learned from his experience is that as an incumbent wholesale provider you need to keep focused on fulfilling customer's needs. Such a theme hits home as CenturyLink is operating in various markets where various competitors are anxious to take away their business.  

"We really focused hard on delivering quality of service to the customer," Cheek said. "I have always preached to the team we're in the service business and we tend to forget that. From a wholesale standpoint, you can't forget it because what we provide is quality of service. We provide what the customer wants, when they want it, where they want it at a reasonable price."

As a wholesale provider, CenturyLink combines the former CenturyTel and EMBARQ ILEC networks long-haul and metro optical assets, including the former CenturyTel's 17,000 mile Lightcore network.

Following general wholesale industry trends, CenturyLink is seeing its traditional voice revenues decline. Like other ILECs, CenturyLink is eyeing wireless backhaul a potential growth engine. CenturyLink has built its fiber network out so that it can target fiber aggregation and tower aggregation whether its in-territory or out of territory.

One of CenturyLink's latest moves to accommodate wireless backhaul was the debut of its new 40 Gbps wavelength service. Serving as a complement to its OC-12/48/192 and 50 Mbps to 10 Gbps Ethernet offerings, the new 40G service eliminates the need for multiple 10 Gbps links.  

"You'll see us continue to negotiate with carriers whether it be big carriers or even smaller ones to get that business at the cell site," Cheek said. "We have been saying this at EMBARQ before the merger we would pitch to the board how important fiber to the cell is to us strategically. Every year it has gotten more and more important with more people getting into it, and now you got these startups and everyone sees it as a landgrab."  

The new wireless backhaul players include a host of wireless backhaul specialists (TTM, FiberTower and Tower Cloud), cable operators (Comcast, Cox and Charter) and newer wholesalers (SouthernLight). And while Cheek is seeing these players emerge in some, but not all, of its markets, he thinks their commitment to quality and resources will help them keep competitors at bay.

"We have to have a differentiator and frankly quality is what sets us apart," Cheek said. "I like to think of it this way: when you get to a small company we have resources that they don't have. As an incumbent, we can bring in technicians from other parts of the country if we have a hurricane hit whereas some of the smaller players that are focused on one region don't have."

Even with some solid quarters of profitability, CenturyLink Wholesale's biggest challenge will be not so much in integrating the network and operations-a process that it says is on track-but continuing to promote a common CenturyLink brand for wholesale.   

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Bill Cheek, President of Wholesale Markets, CenturyLink - Allstars