Employment in the telecommunications industry is expected to increase 7 percent over the 2002-12 period, somewhat less than the 16 percent projected for all industries combined. Currently, excess transmission capacity and significant debt among telecommunications firms should limit employment. However, rising demand for telecommunications services will eventually result in a resumption of job growth in the industry.
Increases in both residential and business demand for high-capacity communications will eventually lead to upgrades of telecommunications networks. Rapidly increasing wireless demand, and the construction of a new generation of wireless systems, will help the wireless portion of the industry. However, technological improvements, such as fiberoptic lines and advanced switching equipment, have massively increased the data transmission capacity of telecommunications networks, and the resulting productivity gains have limited employment growth. Individuals with up-to-date technical skills should have the best employment opportunities.
Residential demand will increase as technology and competition lower the price of premium services, such as high-speed Internet access, video-on-demand, and wireless telephone service. The lower prices resulting from increasing capacity and competition will continue to limit revenues, curbing employment growth. Demand also will increase because deregulation has allowed providers to offer combined services, making it easier for households to obtain a wide variety of telecommunications services. Wireless carriers are competing directly with the residential service business, providing increasingly reliable cellular service and Internet service. Therefore, the lines between cable and satellite TV, wireless, and wireline telephone systems will become blurred.
Business demand will rise as companies increasingly rely on their telecommunications systems to conduct electronic commerce. In order to remain competitive, businesses will require higher speed access to the Internet for a variety of purposes including purchasing, marketing, sales, and customer service, but the increased demand will not result in significant employment gains. Some employment loss will result from improved laborsaving technologies, such as self-monitoring equipment, and from layoffs due to mergers and consolidation in the deregulated industry.
Technology will continue to transform the industry. The installation and upgrading of fiber optic networks will bring ever-faster communications closer to residential customers. Internet telephony, which transmits voice, video, fax, and e-mail communications over the Internet, will blur the boundaries between telecommunications providers and Internet service providers. Wireless providers will continue to increase the capacity of their radio networks and introduce improved portable, lightweight devices capable of transmitting voice, data, and video. Undersea cables and orbiting satellites are integrating wireline and wireless customers into a global system of high bandwidth communications. The installation of computerized switching systems designed for digital content makes transmitting data, video, and graphics as easy as making voice telephone calls.
The removal of competitive barriers has increased competition from providers outside the traditional telecommunications industry. Cable TV providers are using their wireline networks to offer customers a combination of services including telephone service, Internet access, and cable TV programming. With advances in VoIP technology, cable companies will offer voice telephone communications to more customers. These same advances to their networks will allow them to offer more channels of pay-per-view and, in some cases, true video-on-demand. Satellite TV providers also are offering Internet access.
Employment growth will differ among the various occupations in the telecommunications industry, largely as a result of technology change. Employment of communications equipment operators is expected to decline due to increasing automation. Computer voice recognition technology lessens the need for central office operators, as customers can obtain help with long-distance calls from automated systems. This technology, which also enables callers to request numbers from a computer instead of a person, is expected to reduce the number of directory assistance operators. The numbers of these workers may drop further as more customers use automated directory assistance resources on the Internet.
Employment of line installers and repairers is expected to grow as telecommunications providers maintain and expand their networks in response to customer demand. Businesses will request more wireline installations to provide increased connections to suppliers and customers. Residential customers who are not able to obtain upgrades to their copper wirelines will install additional wirelines in order to use voice and data communications simultaneously.
Employment of telecommunications equipment installers and repairers is expected to decrease because newer, more reliable technologies will reduce the need for equipment maintenance. Employment of these workers also will be limited by the tendency of many companies to contract out maintenance and construction work to specialized contractors that are part of the construction industry. However, there still will be many openings available for individuals with the necessary technical skills.
Employment of electrical and electronics engineers and computer professionals is expected to grow faster than that of the overall telecommunications industry. The expansion of communications networks, and the need for telecommunications providers to invest in research and development, will create job opportunities for electrical and electronics engineers. The use of increasingly sophisticated computer technology will increase employment of computer professionals, including computer software engineers, computer support specialists, and computer systems analysts. Growth among these occupations will, in turn, create employment opportunities for engineering and computer and information systems managers.