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SDT anticipating new telecommunications opportunities

Although Southern Diversified Technologies (SDT) is home based in Brookhaven, the company likes to say that “Southern” only applies to its accents. The telecommunications infrastructure services company has 260 employees working all over the country on physical networks from customer premise and outside plant cabling to central office switch equipment and everything in between.

“Unfortunately, or fortunately, ‘Southern’ did not stick. Our first project was in Detroit in January,” said James Ezell, president. “Today, we have people working in 36 states in a widely diversified field of services such as engineering, construction, multi-tiered and multi-disciplined technical services, non-technical support, real estate services from administrative to legal support, right-of-way and many unusual functions such as crisis management consultation, software tools developers and switch maintenance, all in the telecom industry.”

It all began with the idea of having a well diversified base of services in the telecommunication industry, starting with outside plant engineering and construction to serve the telecom carriers with the development of new network facilitates such as cable that runs from town to town or throughout a subdivision or long haul, cross-country routes.

“We serve mostly the larger regional, national and multi-national telecom carriers with wire line and wireless facilities,” Ezell said. “Interestingly, due to the convergence of technologies and battles for customers with services like triple play (telecom, data and TV) and quadruple play (telecom, data, TV and wireless), our traditional customer base of telecom carriers is expanded to now include cable and power companies.”

The company has grown rapidly because of its leadership and the ripe-for-growth industry environment.

“While the dot com’s bubble bursting was what caused the telecom meltdown, along with crooked industry games by Enron and WorldCom, the environment today is different,” he said. “Then it was all on speculation. The cry to ‘build it and they will come’ was what ruled the day. Today, the bandwidth needs are being driven by true demand.”

That demand includes triple play and the drive to develop fiber to the home (FTTH) solutions. The need to upgrade, develop and maintain these networks will rest on the shoulders of companies like SDT, Ezell believes.

“While many of our clients are still feeling the pinch of down sizing during the telecom meltdown, they are reaching out to us for support,” he said. “Also, by having so many tools to choose from, SDT is a good choice, and we can offer turn-key solutions or what we call integrated project delivery.”

As for leadership, Ezell said SDT has four principals with a long history in Mississippi and a great management team working on a national basis. Those leaders are: Charlie Smith, chief executive officer; Richard Johnson, chief financial officer; Kirk Smith, director of corporate development; and, Ezell.

“I have been fortunate to work for a CEO who is as close as you can get to what Jim Collins called a Level 5 Leader in his book ‘Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t’,” Ezell said. “Charlie Smith has been a great mentor, boss and friend. His leadership has directed SDT through the growth that enables us to make the INC 500 list two years in a row.”

He went on to praise Smith for navigating the company through the telecom meltdown — not only surviving but posting a profit each year. Smith’s leadership is also cited as a reason for SDT’s loyal employees.

“We are proud of our accomplishments, heritage in Mississippi and of all the employees who make this a great company,” Ezell said. “Now we are moving on to great growth again in preparation of the re-wiring of America. We are very excited about the future of SDT. The need for more call centers and datacenters will grow exponentially. FTTH initiatives have only connected approximately two million homes.”

He doesn’t see any waning of the telecommunications industry for another 10 years or more. “Competition for the consumer (residential and commercial) is increasing across traditional telecom, cable and even power companies,” he said. “I suspect new technologies will continue to create new infrastructure developments and more opportunity for those companies willing to change with the industry.”

Ezell expects bandwidth needs to continue to grow with new applications coming along as existing ones grow. The application of You Tube alone takes up as much bandwidth as the whole Internet did in 2000.

“In the late 1980s, we were installing some of the first fiber optic cables. We were told it could handle all the needs of the future and that telephone contractors would soon be out of business,” he said. “Almost every prediction since has been as wrong as that one was. I’m betting that more change in the industry will come, and with change comes opportunity!”

SDT has been part of their clients’ disaster readiness recovery teams for years, responsible for reporting to assist with hurricanes, ice storms and other disasters.

“During Katrina we rolled crews out of Brookhaven as hurricane force winds blew over head to help repair damaged fiber facilities, install and refuel generators and clear debris all along the Coast,” Ezell said. “Within days, we were providing helicopter surveillance that included aerial video capture and Web casting of damaged fiber routes and network facilities, route management, facility restoration and many other functions to support the infrastructure rebuild.”

SDT is a member of the Communication Information Technology network and the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MsET) to preserve and promote the value of communication information technology as the centerpiece of economic development in the state. The company recently announced a partnership with MsET, located at Stennis Space Center, to further promote Mississippi as a new technology telecommunications center. That partnership includes an affiliation with the Center of Excellence in Geospatial Technologies.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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