How digitalization and virtualization are impacting the telecom workforce

Originally Published by RCR Wireless
Author: Kelly Hill

Software and digitalization are becoming central to every aspect of telecom network, from how they are architected and operated, to the very process of physically deploying them. Automating highly manual work is the next step in that trend, and it is already being implemented.

Automation is impacting the telecom workforce at both the network deployment and network operations levels. In network operations, the trend toward virtualization of network functions and automation of operations-related tasks means that IT skills are in high demand. Meanwhile, at the network edge, the increasing digitalization and automation of manual tasks such as network testing and documentation of daily work means that even network techs are being asked to have a higher level of software skills.

Nokia, for instance, announced last month that it has digitalized 100% of its 5G deployment process, tying in machine learning and automation with digital project orchestration and data inventories. The vendor says that these changes are associated with a 30% reduction in site visits, 30% improvement in installation quality and a 25% improvement in cycle times compared to the patchwork of paper-based and digital documentation that have typically supported network deployment.

“Today, many operators suffer from a fragmented way in how their next-gen 5G networks are designed, built and managed. The adoption of automation, AI and the digitalization of assets are vital steps in a CSP’s digital transformation journey to capture the full potential of 5G,” said Sanjay Goel, president of Global Services for Nokia.

Carrie Charles, CEO of telecom and tech staffing company Broadstaff, said that overall, the shift toward 5G networks driving two significant shifts in hiring demand: A need for people with IT skills as the networks shift more toward being virtualized and cloud-based; and a desperate desire for more laborers with fiber-related skills to support the scaling up of network deployments.

In terms of the latter, Charles said, “the people that have been in higher demand for 5G that we’ve seen is all fiber, all outside plant. Where we’re seeing the demand is not in the higher-level roles or the management roles, we’re seeing it in the boots-on-the-ground, the laborers.” Fiber installers, directional drillers and similar positions, depending on the region, can be “just really hard, extremely difficult to find,” she said. While many of the skills required for such workers to perform 5G site deployment are more or less the same as they were for 3G and 4G deployments, there are some new demands. Charles said that companies often want workers to have familiarity with multiple software programs that have emerged in the past few years focused on project and site management and reporting.

“Before, there were five people in a room that were using Excel, and their reporting looked a certain way. Now they’re going to have a piece of software that’s going to do all that, so they really require one person to manage that software,” Charles said. Because of the increased use of various software programs on the job site, she added, “There is more of a technical need or a need for technical skills than there was three, four, five years ago even – especially with 5G.”

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