Telecommunications: industry sector overview

Within the telecoms industry, you could work in research and development, technical sales and marketing or installation and technical support, says Fiona Corden, a technical team lead at Metaswitch.

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The goal of the telecoms industry is to make communication possible, wherever you are in the world. There are two sides to the industry: there's everything that the users see, from fixed-line telephones and broadband to mobile devices and apps, then there's the infrastructure behind-the-scenes that makes all of these a reality. On top of that, there's also the infrastructure behind the cloud.

There are so many companies operating in this sector, including hardware manufacturers such as Dell, Metaswitch, Cisco, Juniper and Ericsson, service providers such as BT, AT&T, Three and EE, software companies such as WhatsApp and Skype, and IT consultancy providers such as Accenture and IBM. Google and Amazon are also involved and there are a lot of smaller companies in telecoms, too.

Trends and developments in the telecoms industry

A key topic at the moment is the rollout of 4G and 5G. General IT trends such as the cloud, advances in data processing speeds and data breaches and security are also very relevant to telecoms.

There is currently a shift away from what we call big iron (custom-made hardware that is developed to be very good at a specific thing) towards commodity hardware (generic, easily obtainable servers that are less expensive to manufacture and can be turned into any item of network infrastructure).

Another trend is the containerisation of virtual machines, which is the idea that you can spin up new machines in your data centre by clicking a button, turn them into whatever infrastructure you need at that moment and get rid of them once you don't need them. For service providers, this means they can increase and decrease the size of their infrastructure according to user demand./p>

What it's like working in telecoms

You could work in research and development, technical sales and marketing or installation and technical support. You will almost always work in a team, which will include engineering and IT colleagues, sales and customer support, and possibly design and user experience specialists.

The pace of your work will depend on your employer. When service providers roll out new technology, it tends to be gradual and measured because they need to maintain reliability for their customers. They also face regulations, particularly on critical services such as emergency calling. Small vendors, software-based companies and start-ups, particularly mobile apps, can be very fast-moving as they are trying to launch a product as quickly as possible.

Mobility is not required; however, it is possible to work abroad or take on a role that involves frequent travel. There are also always events and trade shows that you can go to.

Getting a graduate engineering job in the telecoms industry

Some telecoms companies don't require their graduates to have a related degree or specific technical skills. Others may look for programming and electronic circuit design skills. It's very important, though, to have strong communication skills, logical thinking and problem solving abilities.

Most companies run a graduate scheme. Some will rotate you between different areas before you decide which one to settle in, whereas others will start you off in a specific role. Summer internships and industrial placements are also helpful.

You could progress to a management or team leader position and, theoretically, you can go all the way up to CEO. You could also move sideways into, say, sales or marketing. The skills you'll develop as a technical graduate will give you a good grounding for moving into other areas if you wish to.

The highlights of a career in telecoms

  • The variety – there are lots of different aspects to the industry and even within one company.
  • There is a lot of teamwork involved. I spend very little time on my own at a desk.
  • The satisfaction of knowing that I'm making things work for people – and that my broadband supplier uses the software that I wrote!

The telecoms industry seeks graduates from the following disciplines:

  • control
  • electrical
  • electronics
  • instruments
  • manufacturing
  • mathematics
  • physics
  • software
  • telecoms

Always check individual employers' requirements.

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

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