When Steve Oldham took the reins of SureWest (NasdaqGM: SURW) as CEO in January 2006, SureWest was well on the way midst of transforming itself away from just being the local telephone company that just provided voice service.
In the late 1970s, the company improved basic voice services for business community anchors, including Hewlett Packard, by adopting digital switching to deliver call waiting--a major innovation at the time. True to that trend, SureWest today has adopted a steady fiber and IP networking diet.
The company's move into fiber dates back to the late 1990s when it launched Fiber to the Curb with coax, with thoughts of delivering a cable-like service and ISDN data. After acquiring the assets of the now-defunct WinFirst in 2002, SureWest aggressively began advancing its FTTH initiative, one that now reaches 240,500 FTTH and HFC homes.
Despite the challenges of network integration and interoperability, SureWest was also a pioneer in providing IPTV services. Since 2006, the service provider has been rolling out IPTV--first with MPEG-2 and later MPEG-4 video. By moving to MPEG-4, it has been able to deliver the service over fiber and its existing copper network. Most recently, SureWest enhanced its IPTV capabilities with an online DVR Manager and Caller ID on TV for Advanced Digital TV.
And while SureWest sold off its wireless assets and now acts as a wireline-only service provider, an interesting backdrop of its fiber drive is that the same fiber can be used for wireless backhaul wholesale services. The company said it has 100 wireless tower sites under contract many of which were with brand name wireless operators.
Of course, Oldham's CEO reign hasn't been immune to the current economic challenges either, nor to the line losses that have hurt every wireline-centric service provider.
This year, the service provider had to lay off 60 employees, or seven percent of its overall workforce. The service provider's Q1 2010 earnings showed the company's growing pains from a traditional PSTN-centric provider to an IP provider. What's more, with SureWest's technology visionary Bill Demuth retiring at the end of this month, Oldham will also have to find a new innovator to advance its technology strategy.
These are challenges that will test Oldham's 30-year-plus planning knowledge.