Disclaimer - This article is not for telecom software developers & also not for the non-technical workforce like admin, HR, Project Managers, People managers, & other non-technical roles. This is purely intended for system engineers, planners, designers, O&M and configuration engineers, RF engineers, technical support engineers, transmission engineers, solution architects & similar roles either in a vendor or an operator.
Why people are losing jobs in the telecom sector? - There are 3 main reasons
- Lack of new rollouts, deployments because of govt policies, 2G scam, withdrawal of foreign investments, any of the above that you want to mention. Even if a rollout is happening then also the scale of deployment is not that much as it was required initially in GSM/WCDMA rollouts. Currently, operators already have all the basic infrastructure (Utilities, RealEstate, Cell sites, etc) & they just need to either add few new nodes or upgrade services only.
- Evolution of telco nodes from proprietory HW to cloud infrastructure & so companies don’t need a person who is an expert in proprietory HW solution. We will talk in detail about this point in the next heading
- Most important is the reduction of nodes in the architecture especially in the RAN side. If you see below the no of RAN boxes are totally out of the concept now
So there was a requirement of engineers for every node in operation, maintenance, installation, commissioning, etc which is totally wiped off now. You just have a cell site that is also auto-configurable from the NOC with no manual intervention required. These factors have also resulted in a lot of Job loss.
Evolution of telecom nodes from bare-metal to cloud
Around 2016 the word cloud gained a lot of attention in the tech world & telecom is no exception. Firstly we need to understand what cloud means for a telco engineer.
There are two cloud branches -
i. Private cloud infrastructure - These are private datacenters built on COTS (General purpose cheap) H/W -->Linux OS & then --> either VMware or Openstack as a cloud management platform. These private clouds are currently being sold by every telco vendor (Ericsson, Nokia & Huawei) & bought by the telco operators all across the world. On this infrastructure (IaaS) the operator hosts its applications. They can be IT applications (DNS, DHCP, Mail & other servers) or purely telco applications like VoLTE nodes, EPC nodes, RAN nodes, etc. There is a lot of CAPEX saving in this type of infrastructure along with a huge reduction in space requirement because now you have virtual machines in place of proprietary HW boxes coupled with software. The VM can be created in a few seconds & takes no physical space because it is all virtual. A group of similar VMs is called a virtual network function (VNF) & the concept of this virtual Infrastructure is called NFV (Network function virtualization) standardized by ETSI. So now all the physical nodes became VNFs. Going forward all these VNFs will be converted into CNFs (Cloud-native functions) & the VMs will be replaced by containers & managed by Kubernetes on the same private cloud. (Now take a pause & give some time to digest this information)
That is why the demand for IaaS Engg (cloud infra) has increased in telecom. The skills of an Iaas Engg include Linux system admin, network troubleshooting & Openstack administration.
ii. Public cloud infrastructure - Now let’s talk about the public cloud platforms which include AWS, Azure & GCP. These are the IaaS providers means - they rent their infrastructure to any organization that wants to host their application but don’t have a CAPEX to establish their own private cloud. As of now, telcos don’t use public cloud platforms because of regulations, compliance & carrier-grade connectivity limitations. In the near future of 3-5 years, we don’t see telcos using public clouds. It is highly suitable for all non-telco enterprises like healthcare, E-commerce, education, entertainment, etc. The skills required by the public cloud engineer are almost the same as a private cloud engineer. In-fact public cloud platforms provide better management & monitoring of cloud applications as compared to private.
Impact on jobs because of this evolution - I categorize telco employees in four main categories
i. RF engineers - This is the only interface that has not changed to its core i.e. with the advent in the generation (2G–>5G) the RF engineer has also progressed with every generation. From planning to optimization they have a lot new to learn & to work upon. 5G NR is again a totally new interface & I see no impact in their jobs. However, there can be a slight reduction visible because of the use of more intelligent systems & less manual work involved in optimization now.
ii. RAN/BSS engineers - This is the most affected tribe. They are the ones who lost most jobs after LTE. They are the ones who need to upskill themselves the most & fit themselves into different domains. See further sections of the article on how to get this transformation done.
iii. Core engineers - These people have lost a little but not much. Since 2G till now the core networks more or less remained the same with a change from traditional SS7 (over MTP) to --> Sigtran (SS7 over IP) and finally to SIP/Diameter in VoLTE. In fact, the number of core nodes increased in LTE/VoLTE resulting in more jobs of core engineers. However, these people need to upskill themselves in IP routing & Cloud admin skills to remain in the game. But, still, the requirement of core engineers has not reduced.
iv. Transmission engineers - Never to forget but the transmission people are the backbone of the industry so, be it optical, copper, or WAN links the backhaul is not possible without them. With the advent of VoIP & feasibility to use public ethernet, the demand in private transmission networks has decreased significantly & so these people are also affected. The traditional transmission engineers should seriously learn about IP routing, switching & some cloud skills & can find their way in the emerging SD-WAN market having huge demand for these professionals.
Two ways to shift your career - So whoever from the above four categories wants to shift their career profile below are two important suggestions for you.
For people with more than 10 Years of exp - Option (i) is best for you otherwise option (ii)
For people with less than 10 Years of exp - You can opt for any option after a self-assessment
Option (i) - The best option is always to grow inside the organization assuming the organization has a growth path for you & has enough projects to sustain in the market. However, if you are not interested in continuing your domain OR your company has no projects & growth path for you then the most suitable option is to either be a pure network engg or move into cloud (IaaS) administration side which is basically a combination of multi-skills like network admin, Linux admin, configuration engg, on any one of the cloud platform like VMware or OpenStack with OpenStack as the most preferred choice. All that I suggested until now is still under the telco industry & private cloud space, so you have to utilize your contacts & get absorbed internally in any other department or other telco company using references. Believe me or not but references will work best for you instead of searching for jobs in the open market.
Most people are doing a mistake of searching for a job in the non-telco industry (IT/Enterprise/etc) without having any exp or skills in the Job they are targetting. Their CVs are getting rejected straightaway & they are just wasting their time. So if you are into telco operations/maintenance/solution designing/etc in any of the domain from RAN/Core/etc, you should immediately contact/request/convince people who can get you absorbed into same positions at cloud because in the same organizations we have cloud operations/maintenance/Solution design teams also so, it is best for you if somebody can refer you there & you get a chance to get a real hands-on the system. Work for a year or so, gain some real skills & then publish your CV in an open market. You will be in a much better position to crack something good.
Option (ii) - Even if you didn’t get anything then you have to try in the open market & that too in public cloud domain which has AWS, Azure & GCP cloud platforms. These are the same IaaS systems but on the public cloud. You can opt for a basic certification & try in the IT sector but you will get very little advantage of your past experience. Remember that you have to face other challenges in the interview process to justify your career switch. Remember that 95% of the total cloud market is occupied by public cloud & so chances of getting a job in the public cloud is more but, at the same time, you have to face more competition also because of a lot of public cloud professionals available in the market as compared to fewer professionals in the private space.
Should I go for any certification? - This is the most common question nowadays & my answer is that the real technical recruiter (like me) will first asses you on real skills & exp rather than looking for certifications. You can go for certification but remember that if you are not working real-time on that system then it takes only 15 days to forget everything & the certification stands no value in an interview.
As now you have already understood the difference between private & public cloud so if you are a pure telecom employee then doing a public cloud certification only seems beneficial if you want to switch your domain from Telco to IT side but again, you have to face other challenges in the interview process to justify your career switch. Before deciding to write a certification exam please evaluate yourself. Only write the exam in case you will be able to apply the acquired knowledge in your current organization OR You’re sure that you will crack a new opportunity after this certification. Don’t do it just because everybody in your connections is doing it. To gain more technical skills refer to the next section
Learning resources - Remember that the quality learning material is always paid. The free material on Udemy or Youtube is of no use.
I would recommend everyone to explore quality learning platforms like Edureka, Intelipaat, LinkedIn learning & Udemy paid courses. Initially do not register for a paid course but watch the sample course videos & first understand what is going on in the industry & what every topic is all about then, based on your interest you may decide to register for any such course with them.
For containers/dockers & Kubernetes get a course on kodecloud dot com. They are the best in them.
Conclusion:- It is not an easy task to simply switch your career instead it takes a lot of planning, efforts & luck to crack something good. For a good career move, you have to compromise either your comfort, salary, seniority, or location but in the end it will pay you back. Please do a self-assessment & then decide your next step. The next step can be different for different people. For some people, it will be good to continue what they’re already doing, some may need to upgrade their skills & get an internal departmental transfer & for some, it is better to change the domain completely. I wish everyone the best of luck