Settled in a nine-story granite complex across from North Hills Mall, Raleigh-based telecommunications company Business Telecom, Inc., is waiting for just the right moment to launch its $125 million initial public offering of stock.

Choosing to go public after 16 years, the integrated telecommunications provider wants to expand to new and national markets, said Anthony Copeland, executive vice president and general counsel.

"We are moving into the arena, concentrating in the southeastern part of the United States," said Copeland, "to becoming an integrated [communications provider] providing one bill for all [telecommunications] services [that BTI provides]."

In mid-July, BTI filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission stating its plans to go public. "Right now we can't discuss plans due to what's called the quiet period," Copeland said.

In the unpredictable stock market, the company has yet to announce a date to begin issuing shares. A bad first day on Wall Street could hurt the stock's long-term value.

The best time for the company to do its IPO is during high optimism, said William Sax, executive in residence at the Fuqua School of Business. The company's performance in the volatile market will depend on the large segment of investors who follow the telecommunications sector. Its predictions will fuel either negative or positive press for the company.

"It is difficult to say how BTI will do right now," Sax said. "Telecommunications specialists will be the judge and jury at least for the initial response."

BTI would be the third Triangle company to go public this year, joining OpenSite Technologies, a comprehensive online auction provider, and Red Hat, Durham's successful Linux software company that has appealed to investors nationwide. SciQuest.com, an electronic commerce site for scientists, filed plans last week for an initial offering of stock-and could become the fourth RTP technology company to go public.

"Telecommunications is a rapidly growing business," said Sax. "Nine years ago, [BTI] was still small and it suddenly skyrocketed."

The company now ranks among the top 15 long distance carriers nationwide with more than 60,000 customers and 600 employees. Based on its 1998 revenues, the firm was recently ranked seventh among the competitive local exchange carriers in a 1999 report by New Paradigm Resources Group.

BTI is taking several steps to strengthen its position in the deregulated and competitive environment of telecommunications. Targeting small- and medium-sized businesses, BTI's services include local and long-distance telephone, data, Internet access, paging and other enhanced systems.

The privately held company was established in 1983 by North Carolina telecom entrepreneur Peter Loftin to provide lower-cost long distance services to business customers. Since its beginning, the company has expanded its services into nine cities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and plans to offer local services in 10 additional Southeastern markets by 2001.

BTI will use money raised from the IPO to continue to build its network, open new sales offices and buy equipment to help it become a major regional telecom player.

"The proceeds will be used to continue installation of switches and increase new infrastructures," Copeland said.

The IPO will be underwritten by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Salomon Smith Barney, and by Banc of America Securities LLC, and Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc.