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An overview of the telecoms industry

Telecommunications: industry sector overview

Engineers in the constantly changing telecoms industry can opt to work for a vendor or a supplier.

The main objective of the telecoms industry is to allow people to communicate, whether they're talking on traditional fixed-line telephones, or using mobile devices to send and receive data from the cloud. Employers include BT, Virgin Media, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Nortel, Vodafone, O2 and EE, as well as IT consultancy providers such as Accenture and IBM.

The sector is broadly split into vendors and carriers: vendor companies such as Metaswitch, Broadsoft and Ericsson sell the hardware and software products that carrier companies such as BT, AT&T and Yahoo! use in their networks.

Activities vary by company and industry sector, but generally include research and development of hardware or software, technical sales and marketing, and installation and technical support. Companies that run large networks and data centres are also involved in infrastructure and networking activities.

Trends and developments in the telecoms industry

The big trend in IT at the moment, which is relevant to telecoms, is virtualisation, which is most commonly seen in cloud computing. It is useful, therefore, for students and graduates to have an awareness of cloud computing, software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV).

What it's like working in telecoms

Roles are mostly office-based, although it is often possible to work from home. There are opportunities to travel and work abroad, but mobility is not usually a requirement. Teamwork is a major aspect of most roles, and those working in infrastructure or support teams are often client-facing. There isn’t a culture of working very long hours, but things do get more pressured when you’re close to releasing a new product. The sector has remained fairly recession-proof owing to the continued requirement for telecommunications solutions.

Projects might include designing and developing new products, product testing, setting up infrastructure and supporting customers. The pace of the work depends on your role: a developer or designer might have a moderately-paced project whereas a colleague in support will work much faster to deal with customer issues.

Getting a graduate engineering job in the telecoms industry

Entry requirements vary across the industry depending on the role and the company to which you are applying. It’s important, however, to have strong problem solving abilities and excellent communication skills.

Any demonstrable interest in IT and technology is an advantage. This could be gained through joining a club at university or working with IT in your spare time. Work experience is useful, but not essential. It is also beneficial to be aware of general trends affecting the industry and be able to talk about them sensibly.

Most graduates who work for vendors of equipment and software start in a technical role in hardware or software development to gain experience that lets them move into other roles. The entry roles for carriers are more varied and often require specialist knowledge.

The highlights of a career in telecoms

  • Working at the cutting edge of technology.
  • The huge range of jobs offered by the sector.
  • The challenges of scalability involved in rolling out huge telecoms networks.

The telecoms industry seeks graduates from the following disciplines:

  • control
  • electronics
  • instruments
  • materials
  • physics
  • software
  • telecoms

Always check individual employers' requirements.

Thanks to Fiona Corden for her help with this article. Fiona is a software engineer with Metaswitch Networks. She has an engineering degree from Durham University and has worked in the industry for 11 years.