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Career Guide and Opportunity in Telecom Engineering

A phone missing from your pocket feels like a missing wallet, or even the house keys. For some people it feels like a lobotomy. The thought of such a dependency on the mobile phone two decades ago would have been laughable.

Engineering departments in India: Scope, Career and Future ...

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Not any more though. Today, telecommunication has become an indispensable part of our lives by making us far more efficient. A career in it is looking more attractive than ever before.

Why bother?
Projected mobile penetration of 40% (500 million) by 2010, in India. Estimated 275,000 new jobs over next five years. Constant evolution of mobile technology over the next five years

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How do I progress faster in this profession?
Adaptability to the ever changing pace of the industry. Constant improvement of skills to keep up.

Where am I ten years from now?
Technical lead OR Senior Manager

What’s in it for me?
Continuous innovation. Marked use of your own technologies.

What is it?


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As time goes by the amount to data that flies invisibly between our phones is increasing. In 1996 we saw the introduction of SMS and voice in India. Soon we had far richer data capabilities – multimedia and comfortable text surfing on the net. In the future, we’re going to be seeing high-definition video fly in and out of devices the size of a handset. We’re talking dozens of megabytes per second here. Theoretically UMB (Ultra Mobile Broadband) would allow you to handle 275 megabytes per second download  and 75 MBps upload, even in a car traveling at 60 km per hour. When the Indian telecom industry started out about 14 years ago, we had to struggle with call-drops while standing still. There’s still enormous scope for improvement. It’s not just because of improving handsets. It’s also because of what’s happening at the network end.

However, Telecom Engineering is a lot larger than just mobile phones. This is just the most visible part as a consumer. This field is larger than telephones. It’s about communications. the entire industry is dedicated to ensure that individuals, organizations and even continents can communicate more efficiently.

Broadly put, telecommunications is about the transfer of data. We however, are most familiar with that chunk of plastic and metal in our pockets. Beyond that we have networks, satellites and undersea cables.

Why is it needed?


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With the explosion of electronic media, telecommunication engineering/ infrastructure is one field that is gaining immense popularity as a lucrative  career option for the new generation.

As you drive through the city you see huge towers everywhere. Each of these is busy beaming signals across its circle to ensure you can stay connected. There is a huge infrastructure that goes behind a telecom company. this includes the setting up of towers, laying of cables where necessary and then bringing the whole customer end together. Basically, a cell site consists of electronic (active) and non-electronic infrastructure (further defined below):

  • Electronic infrastructure includes base tower station, microwave radio equipment, switches, antennae, transceivers for signal processing and transmission.
  • Non-electronic infrastructure includes tower, shelter, air-conditioning equipment, diesel electric generator, battery, electrical supply, technical premises and easements and pylons that account for nearly 60 percent of network roll-out costs.

Telecom is a mammoth industry and opens a wide range of career opportunities on both the hardware and software fronts. The list is long: mobile telephony, internet protocol media system, wireless communications, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), data networks, optical networks, and much more. Internet Service Providers use telecom hardware and therefore employ telecom engineers for their network-related operations.

The growth story


The teledensity was 34.5 percent as in Jan 2009 and the projected teledensity is 500 million, 40 percent of population by 2010. One can just imagine the number of people who will be required to service the demands of such a fast growing industry.

An estimated 275,000 jobs will be created in this sector over the next five years. Telecom, just like IT, is a growing industry because of the amount of innovation and growth it sees. It is an arm of technology that now plays a very fundamental part in our lives.

Reliance, Bharti Telecom, Tata Indicom, Hutch (Vodafone), MTNL and BPL are the major operators in India Aircel has also stepped in as a major player.

There are many more, such as Unitech, Shyam and others, in the pipeline. Until recently, only the PSUs, BSNL and MTNL, were allowed to provide Basic Phone Service through copper wires in India MTNL is operating in Delhi and Mumbai only and all other parts are covered by BSNL. However private operators have now entered the fray, although their focus is largely on the cellular business which is growing rapidly.

Career part and future prospects


People with a broad-level experience and understanding of the industry can also move into the software field. Once you understand the software or hardware side completely you can move into sales. Domain knowledge is a prerequisite to sell it. Hence, if you come from a sales background you cannot move into the software or hardware divisions.

The options for a fresh engineer are pretty open. The skills you possess determine the field that you choose. You could start from software for VAS, handsets and infrastructure and then switch between these mid-career.

Abhinav Goyal, a telecom software professional working for a telecom equipment manufacturer says that depending on the company employing them, people could be working for:

  • Independent Software Vendors (and services companies): for example, Aricent
  • Hardware Vendors (and services companies): for example, Flextronics
  • Telecom Equipment Manufacturers: For example, Cisco
  • Network solution providers/integrators: for example, GTL, IBM, Accenture (also an ISV)
  • Operators: for example, Airtel, Vodafone
  • Network Operations and Management Companies: for example, GTL, IBM

Future prospects


The career tracks are conventional and have a steady growth path. Besides the telecom companies, there are many research labs setting up in India which will require PhDs and MAs with hands-on knowledge of telecom. If you are interested in working on the next big thing then this could be your path.

Perhaps building the next slick handset appeals to you. If this is the case, then there is scope in new product development for APAC Markets as all handset manufacturers, except for the iPhone and Blackberry, are rolling out handsets here.

Traditionally, you could expect the following growth path in software or hardware roles:

Software/HW Engineer -> Senior software/HW engineer -> Assistant manager Software/HW -> Manager Software/HW

Hardware opportunities


Design and implementation: Designing telecom systems equipments, infrastructure, and networks is a good career option since there has to be a proper design in  place before installation of equipment such as switchers and routers at a base station. But design and manufacturing of original telecom equipment is yet to take off on a large scale in India. Equipment design engineers, therefore, see better prospects abroad.

  • Operations and maintenance: The telecom infrastructure requires operational support and maintenance to function at optimal capacity. This domain includes monitoring, troubleshooting, and analysis of the operations which take place at the base service station. Ultimately, the job of those in the operation and maintenance department is to ensure that voice is transmitted from one end to another.
  • Services: Increased competition means telecom service providers must provide quality service keeping operational costs under control. They deploy solutions for service quality management, fault management, and performance management.
  • Network: Job functions in wired, wireless, and data networks all fall under the network umbrella. Employed in this domain are engineers who specialize in wireless and other technologies. They are, for example, GSM or CDMA engineers/ specialists, GPRS engineers / specialists. Specifically, installation, planning, administration, security management, troubleshooting, and testing of networks are involved in this domain. freshers are usually absorbed into the industry in networking jobs. Network engineers at times design terrestrial networks and certify them. Vendor-specific certifications are a plus in a network engineer’s profile. Of all the network functions, security is an area worthy of mention in terms of opportunities.

Software opportunities


Software in this industry usually enables signal testing and network monitoring. Real-time operating systems are of particular importance to aspirants.

Revenue and billing services: those skilled in DBA (Database Analysis) software systems and data warehousing are employed extensively in this sector. They specialize in working on vendor-based applications and software systems such as Oracle, Kenan, and Siebel. The professional here keeps a check on whether customers are correctly billed and prevents fraud or faulty billing.

Value-Added Services (VAS): A fiercely-growing domain, emerging as a separate industry, VAS includes entertainment, commerce, TV, and more – on the mobile. The majority of the opportunities in VAS are towards programming for the mobile platform.

Power of the tower!

Can you imagine yourself without a mobile phone? No, because telecom has become a lifeline for the world at large. The lifeline is supported by a tower, the base station, that stands tall in your city and ensures your connectivity at all times.

As more people buy cell phones for the first time, mobile service providers have to install more antennae and base service stations. In turn, the demand for those who specialize in telecom design and implementation is bound to rise.

Recently in India, many new telecom companies were awarded licenses to operate in various states across India. Some of them hold a Pan India License. The entry of so many players in telecom throws up many issues. How are these new players going to establish themselves? From where will they get people to operate? How will they scale at the pace they want?

Amongst the world economies, India has one of the fastest growing telecom networks with its high population and development potential. While over 380 million people own mobile phones in the country today, the number will shoot up to 500 million mobile  users by 2010, as telecom operators will look to tap the unexploited rural market (source: Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)). This creates a huge need for professional with relevant telecom backgrounds to supports, service and meet the demands of the sector.

What drove your choice of this career?

Veer Chand Bothra, Revience: I got hooked to the internet early on (mid-90s). Soon I was keen to work on technologies which drove the internet. I have mostly been on the software development side in telecom equipment manufacturers (TEM) though I have also worked on network planning/ deployment.

What are the required skills set?

Veer Chand Bothra: To be a part of this industry, and survive, one has to have an inherent desire to learn (and learn endlessly), because whatever technology you may be working on today will be old tomorrow. Hard work is another pre-requisite. If you have the tendency to put off work, take your own time in learning, this is not the place for you. Also, you have to have customer-oriented thinking. A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for most fields listed above.

Required mind set

Veer Chand Bothra: The mind set required is very open to learn and change. Maybe a new technology a day! You have to keep your mind adaptable to the ever changing pace of the industry.

One could always move to network deployments or in defining the standards. This takes a lot of effort to master a field completely. Also, one can move from a TEM to an operator to an integrator.

There are tremendous prospects both at the entry and at the middle levels. The emerging hot areas in this profession are: convergence – IMS, IP on the  backhaul, etc; wireless 3G/4G/LTE, web applications that solve communication-related problems.

“The student should be strong in Physics and Mathematics, Ideally, good mathematical analysis, programming, signal processing, concepts of telecom should be focused on. Communication today drivers society. A student gets a decent idea on how these work. Also one must understand how communication works over the cell phone, internet and TV. We receive as low as 10 to the power of minus 14 Watts of power at handset and it still works. How and why need to be though about!,” says Ashok Jhunjhunwala, IIT-M.

Types of employers


Service provide

People who understand the box application of infrastructure are needed in this department. These people go out and create the infrastructure.

  • Sales guys for equipments – you need engineers who can sell
  • Administration people – who are familiar with the industry and look at expanding
  • people for the maintenance of infrastructure

Manufacturing of equipment

  • System design of low level firmware/chip ware
  • Mechanical aspect for the box. People should be able to service and test.
  • People to actually manufacture the equipment.

Consumer-end

  • People who understand circuit boards and embedded software
  • People who know operating systems and software

Services for the end-user (VAS)

  • People who can develop software applications

What makes people successful in this career?


According to Indu Kapoor, HR business partner, Research and Development, Alcatel Lucent, NCR Region, the people she has noticed to succeed in this field are those with the ability to analyze a problem and develop solutions quickly. These people have the constant need to learn. Once they have learned something new people have the constant need to learn. Once they have learned something new they should be able to figure out how to apply it. “Can they make their product faster, lighter, last longer? They should have the desire to improvise,” she says.

For a leadership role, she points out that it is not critical for the candidate to have an in-depth knowledge in the domain. The leader does not have to get into code-level instructions, instead she says that they may have other abilities, like the ability to motivate people.

What are the alternate mid-career changes possible?


According to Indu Kapoor of Alcatel Lucent, telecom is not a sector that people leave very easily. Her reasons are that the nature of the job is just that exciting, and on top this the pay is usually higher than other sectors.

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