FierceTelecom Leaders: Roland Thornton, EVP of Wholesale Markets, Qwest

With over 30 years of telecom experience under his belt with stints at the former SBC (now AT&T) and Ameritech (AT&T), Roland Thornton again rose to the occasion in 2004 when he was elevated from vice president of customer service operations to executive vice president of Wholesale Markets for Qwest. As FierceTelecom makes its way to this year's Spring COMPTEL show, we thought we'd catch up with Roland and get his take emerging wholesale service trends, including the burgeoning demand for new fiber-based wireless backhaul services.  

FierceTelecom: Roland, we just came off what was by many accounts one of the worst economic downturns since the depression, but what does 2010 look like for Qwest Wholesale?
Thornton: There are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is we're all coming through a significant headwind with the economic downturn. It's affected a lot of areas in the business. The good news is that as we enter into 2010, I am beginning to see customers starting to buy again. They are doing it cautiously, but nonetheless we are no longer seeing the distress of the economic condition back in the middle to the second quarter of last year so that's a good thing. As we see the overall economy start to stabilize a bit--and I am not predicting growth--we are actually seeing opportunities to grow our IP data product set. At the same time, I am continuing to see the erosion of our voice products. The trajectory may bend slightly, but it's an industry trend that's just going to continue. Our goal is to outperform the industry trend, but that trend will continue to manifest itself. What we're most excited about is the growth opportunities emerging in the data/IP space. That's what we're focused on and what we're investing in.

FierceTelecom: What will drive the growth of data/IP in 2010?
Thornton: The largest growth opportunity is in the wireless backhaul business. We are committed to that business and providing our wireless service providers with the capacity they need in order to satisfy their end users. If you think about what has been happening in the past year, even in the economic downturn, capacity demands from end-users continue to increase. With this proliferation of new devices at more frequent rates--the latest of which is the iPad--the question is what impact will these devices have on wireless network backhaul capacity? I am sure customers will want to go out and buy it--that drives more capacity. As capacity demands increase then the wholesale provider is in the ideal situation to alleviate some of that congestion in the network by providing the bandwidth that wireless service providers require. I see this as an area we're very excited about. We think for the foreseeable future that trend will continue.   

FierceTelecom: You mentioned wireless backhaul. What are you doing to address the demand for backhaul? Is it a mix of extending more fiber to the network and connecting fiber to more towers?
Thornton: It's all of the above. What we do of course is work with each of the wireless service providers and look at their growth rates and their demands and we ultimately like to provide fiber to these cell sites. Our effort to date has been to make connections on our fiber base because of the virtually unlimited capacity that's available when fiber is in place. We recently announced that we had 4,000 cell sites under contract. I think we are one of the leading providers of fiber-to-the-cell-site and we want to continue to look for ways to help our wireless service providers provide the service levels they need to their end users.

Click here to read Part II of the interview