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Telecommunications

Industry Overview
The telecommunications industry delivers telephone, television, Internet, and other services to customers throughout the United States. Providing the primary means of communication to virtually all businesses, households, and individuals, telecommunications firms supply an essential service to the U.S. economy. In addition to offering traditional services such as wired phone and cable TV, telecommunications companies also offer services such as cellular phone, broadband and mobile Internet, and satellite TV, among others.

Industry Organization
The telecommunications industry is divided into four main sectors: wired, wireless, satellite, and other telecommunications establishments. The largest sector of the telecommunications industry continues to be made up of wired telecommunications carriers. Establishments in this sector mainly provide telecommunications services such as such as wired (landline) telephone, digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet, and cable TV and Internet services. These organizations route TV, voice, Internet, data, and other content over a network of wires and cables, and control access to this content. They may own and maintain networks, share networks with other organizations, or lease network capacity from other companies. Establishments in the telecommunications industry, however, do not create the content that is transmitted over their networks, such as TV programs. Wired telecommunications also includes direct-to-home satellite television distributors and a variety of other businesses.

Wireless telecommunications carriers provide telephone, Internet, data, and other services to customers through the transmission of signals over networks of radio towers. The signals are transmitted through an antenna directly to customers, who use devices, such as cell phones and mobile computers, to receive, interpret, and send information. A large component of this industry segment consists of companies that provide cellular phone service, which has grown rapidly over the past decade. Another component includes establishments that deliver mobile Internet services to individuals with Internet-enabled cellular phones and computers.

Satellite telecommunications establishments are made up mostly of government and private organizations that transmit a variety of data through satellites, including photos of the earth, messages to and from public safety officials, and a variety of other information. Direct-to-home satellite TV providers, however, are classified with wired telecommunications.

Other sectors in the telecommunications industry include telecommunications resellers, as well as operators of other communication services ranging from radar stations to radio networks used by taxicab companies.

Recent Developments
Telecommunications carriers are expanding their data transmission capabilities, known as "bandwidth," by replacing copper wires with fiber optic cables. Fiber optic cable, which transmits light signals along glass strands, permits faster, higher capacity transmissions than traditional copper wire. In some areas, carriers are extending fiber optic cable to residential customers, enabling them to offer cable television, video-on-demand, faster high-speed Internet, and conventional telephone communications over a single line.

Wireless telecommunications carriers are deploying several new technologies to allow faster data transmission and better Internet access in an effort to make them more competitive in a market that includes wired Internet carriers. With faster connection speeds, wireless carriers can transmit music, videos, applications, and other content that can be downloaded and played on cellular phones, giving users mobile access to large amounts of data. In addition, as use of this mobile technology increases, wireless companies continue to develop the next generation of technologies that will allow even faster data transmission

Working Environment 
Most workers in the telecommunications industry worked 40 hours per week in 2008, but about 14 percent worked more than 50 hours, on average. Workers in this industry are sometimes required to work overtime, especially during emergencies such as floods or hurricanes when employees may need to report to work with little notice to help restore network connections. Most telecommunications managers, administrative workers, and professionals work in clean, comfortable offices. Customer service representatives often work in call centers where they answer customer service calls, and may be required to work evening and weekend hours

Employment
The telecommunications industry provided about 1.0 million wage and salary jobs in 2008. Wired telecommunications carriers accounted for about 666,100 of these jobs in 2008, while 202,700 were in wireless telecommunications carriers. Telecommunications jobs are found in almost every part of the country, but most employees work in cities that have large concentrations of industrial and business establishments.

STEM Degree Paths into this Industry
Nineteen percent of the industry's employees are professional and related workers. (Many additional workers in these occupations are employed at the headquarters or research facilities of telecommunications companies, establishments that are classified in other industries.) Engineers plan cable routes, equipment installations, the expansion of existing structures, and solve other engineering problems. Some engineers also engage in research and development of new equipment. Many specialize in telecommunications design or voice, video, or data communications systems, and integrate communications equipment with computer networks. Others research, design, and develop gas lasers and related equipment needed to send messages through fiber optic cables. They study the limitations and uses of lasers and fiber optics; find new applications for them; and oversee the building, testing, and operations of the new applications. They work closely with clients who may not understand sophisticated communications systems, and design systems that meet their customers' needs.

Computer software engineers and network systems and data communications analysts design, develop, test, and debug computer software programs and computer networks. These include computer-assisted engineering programs for schematic cabling projects; modeling programs for cellular and satellite systems; and programs for telephone options, such as voice mail, email, and call waiting. Telecommunications specialists coordinate the installation of these systems and may provide follow-up maintenance and training.

Industry Forecast
Despite increasing demand for telecommunications services, employment in the telecommunications industry is expected to decline. Job opportunities, however, will arise from the need to replace a significant number of workers who are expected to retire in the coming decade. With rapid technological changes in telecommunications, those with up-to-date technical skills will have the best job opportunities.

Employment in the telecommunications industry is expected to decline by 9 percent over the 200818 period, compared with 11 percent growth for all industries combined. Despite an increasing demand for wireless Internet, cable television, and mobile technologies, productivity gains will result in a reduced demand for workers. As telecommunications infrastructure becomes more reliable, for example, fewer workers will be needed to make repairs. Also, consolidation among organizations will lead to productivity growth across many occupational groups, as combined operations generally require fewer total workers.

Households will demand more services such as wireless Internet, video-on-demand, and mobile- and Internet-based telephone services. Businesses will demand faster and more advanced telecommunications systems to improve communication and electronic commerce. These services are being supplied increasingly by all the competing sectors of the industry, as the lines become blurred between cable and satellite TV, and between wireless and wired phone and Internet systems. Employment, however, is projected to decline in both the wired and wireless sectors.

Wireless companies will continue to introduce new technologies and services and provide faster Internet access. Employment, however, is expected to decline by 1 percent over the projection period. Demand will decrease for installation, maintenance, and repair occupations as the rate of expansion of the wireless infrastructure slows, because upgrading existing equipment is less labor-intensive than installing new equipment. Some occupations, however, will not see such declines. Demand for customer service representatives will grow as these workers will be needed to accommodate an increase in customers. In addition, computer specialists will not see declines because these workers will be needed to develop new technologies.

Employment in wired telecommunications carriers is expected to decline by 11 percent. Fiber optic cables, which are more reliable than their copper-wire counterparts, are expected to account for an increasing portion of the wired infrastructure. This will result in fewer installation, maintenance, and repair workers, as malfunctions occur less frequently. Employment should decline in most other occupational groups as well, as wired services, such as landline phones and cable Internet, lose market share to their wireless counterparts.

Job openings are expected to arise in the telecommunications industry as a result of the growing number of retirements and the continuing need for skilled workers. Prospects will be best for installation, maintenance, and repair workers, many of whom are expected to retire in the coming years, as well as for customer service representatives, who tend to have high turnover, creating many openings. Opportunities in these occupations will be best for applicants with 2-year or 4-year degrees, as well as the necessary skills.

Related Degree Fields

Professional Associations

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
 


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