In the past three months, whenever I tried to figure out a ray of hope in the Indian electronics industry during this recession, it had to be the word ‘telecom.’ If there is one industry which is showing tremendous growth, and will continue to expand, it is telecom. Aggressive marketing, falling tariff and cutthroat competition have led to its steady rise. India is currently adding 8-10 million mobile subscribers every month.
Given the huge size of the nation and the fact that only 25 per cent of the population has communication network now, the future looks tremendously bright for the telecom industry. It is estimated that by mid 2012, around half of the country’s population will own a mobile phone. This would translate into 612 million mobile subscribers, amounting to a tele-density of around 51 per cent. The telecom industry is expected to generate revenues worth $43 billion by 2009-10.
According to The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, the telecom industry attracted Rs 891-billion investments from major players in the first half of 2008 alone. Indian telecom is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and is projected to become the second largest telecom market globally by 2010. In April 2008, India overtook the US as the second largest wireless market, and as a pointer to the increasing global influence of Indian telecom companies, seven Indian firms have featured in the list of the world’s 100 most influential telecom companies, compiled by Global Telecoms Business—an industry magazine.
“Considering that telecom is a booming sector even in times of the current economic recession, the demand for employable individuals is open. The types of firms that are engaged in recruiting are spread across, but not limited to, operators, integrators and vendors,” informs Pius Maria Prasad, director-human resource, Huawei Technologies India.
The recruitment trend in the telecom industry further confirms this statement. Large telecom players like Bharti Airtel, Huawei, Tech Mahindra, ZTE Corporation, Nokia as well as loads of small and medium enterprises are in a hiring mode.
How to enter the communication chain?
Considering that telecom is a booming industry even in times of the current economic recession, the demand for employable individuals is open. The types of firms that are engaged in recruiting are spread across, but not limited to, operators, integrators and vendors.
—Pius Maria Prasad, director-human resource, Huawei Technologies India
Who can be a part of this thrilling wave sweeping across the country? Anyone who has anything to do with technology in his day-to-day life. Academicians, lawyers, MBAs, salespeople and PR people are needed just as badly as the techies who design and maintain the worldwide information network for the future. But to qualify for an engineering job, you need to be specialised either in electronics & communication engineering, computer science or electrical engineering.
On the technology side, there is room for degree holders, diploma holders or even candidates with part-time certification courses. You will find that most of the engineering jobs can be bucketed under some broad categories. For example, broadband network architects are people who provide IP network architecture solutions to clients for the next-generation network—a network based on IP, ATM and SONET.
Network and application test engineers integrate, verify and deploy a full-service, high-speed data network providing nationally distributed video, voice, local programming and data services.
Another important category is network management and architecture/system engineers. These people provide network management solutions to clients for currently planned deployments and next-generation network technologies. A position may include focus on all aspects of operations support. A combination of business, telecommunication and computer knowledge is optimal.
Wireless engineers develop potential wireless data applications, technology intelligence to identify and track wireless data products, and wireless data strategies. These also interact with vendors.
Bellheads are technocrats who understand switching, i.e., what takes place between the switch and the network. These don’t need to write code, so ITI certificate or diploma is sufficient for this role.
What can you expect?
The high demand in telecom creates a minefield of opportunities for aspirants. These firms also pay well. The starting salary for freshers is Rs 300,000 to Rs 500,000 per annum. Customer facing jobs could fetch something between Rs 200,000 and Rs 300,000 per annum. The year-to-year salary hike is quite satisfactory in comparison with other sectors. As an engineer, you could choose to continue in the technology field, be a part of the technocommercial team or move to the business development aspect of the service.
“Under the technical career path, an individual who starts off as a software engineer can grow to the highest level of a chief technical officer (CTO). And under the managerial career path, he can grow to the level of a business line head,” says Prasad.
While recruiting, firms usually look at a combination of a consistent academic record and soft skills. Though the Indian academia is churning thousands of engineers per year, there is a significant gap between the need of the industry and what the freshers bring to the table.
Of over 450,000 technical graduates churned out every year from engineering institutes, only 25 to 30 per cent are employable. This in itself is an indication of the ‘shortage’. To be fair, even this 25-30 per cent is not really ‘industry ready.’ In order to reduce the ‘gestation period’ of freshers, there is still a need for training and investment. They are not directly productive from day one.
So when you are looking at a possible employment opportunity, you need to know what’s in demand there? Let’s therefore focus on the industry expectations.
Where does communication begin?
“For optimising telecommunication applications, even professionals with science and engineering background entering the telecom industry, often require specialised training in theory and practice in order to properly handle different types of machines and instruments in various systems of telecom equipment, both in wired and wireless communication,” says K.S. Mittal, director-project at Mobile Communication (India).
For optimising telecom applications, even professionals with science and engineering background entering the telecom industry often require specialised training in theory and practice in order to properly handle different types of machines and instruments in various systems of telecom equipment, both in wired and wireless communication.
—K.S. Mittal, director-project, Mobile Communication (India)
As an aspiring professional, you better start from the base level. A basic telecommunication system consists of three elements: a transmitter that takes information and converts it into a signal, a transmission medium that carries the signal, and a receiver that receives the signal and converts it back into usable information. For example, in a television broadcasting system, the broadcast tower is the transmitter, free space is the transmission medium and the television set is the receiver. Often telecommunication systems are two-way with a single device acting as both a transmitter and receiver—transceiver.
Your mobile phone is an ideal example of the transceiver. You can begin with the principles of telecommunication. Next, understand a simple but versatile system and upgrade to complex ones in a realistic manner.
How to learn communication?
Start with the signaling system. The telecommunication system can be represented by a generalised model consisting of an information source, modulation system for coder, decoder for demodulation system, destination and, of course, transmission system or channel as the central feature. Delve a little deeper, you’ll find that almost all channels have a tendency to distort signal. A telecommunication engineer should learn how to minimise distortion by careful choice of the transmitted waveform. To do this, you must be able to define and analyse both the signals and the channels through which they are transmitted. Put an emphasis on the numerical methods like discrete Fourier transformations and the relationship between time and frequency domain representation.
The next thing you need is to link with SONET and explore modulation and demodulation. Your realistic knowledge of electronics circuit techniques will be useful at this stage. Though real communication is always accompanied by noise, it is better to consider the effect of noise after gaining basic ideas of modulation. Know the technology behind amplitude modulation (AM) as well as the economic factors affecting the choice of an AM system. In this way, you will get an idea of phase modulation, frequency modulation and different modulators.
Knowledge of some advance transmission, like frequency-division multiplex-access (FDMA) and time-division multiple-access (TDMA), or non-linear coding related procedures, like companding (a combination of COMpressing and exPANDING), is ‘nice to have.’ In fact, you may get a fair idea of the code-division multiple-access (CDMA) systems here.
Realise the challenges
Your next challenge is to provide solutions for a real communication system. Take any of these systems, the first problem you have to solve is noise. Identify physical sources of noise as well as noise properties of the networks. Error detection and correction related activities are must for any real system. So try to understand them both in PSTN and wireless networks.
Power saving is another aspect gaining importance in communication systems. Telecommunication is mainly a high-frequency transmission system. Thus, the transmission theory is important for communication engineers as it provides them the means for making the most efficient use of power and equipments at their disposal. As an aspirant, you also need to spend time to understand this theory.
By applying this knowledge correctly, you can ensure that a transmitting system is designed to transfer as much power as possible from the feeder line to the antenna, or you can take steps to ensure that a receiving antenna is correctly matched to the line that connects it to the receiver itself, so that no power is wasted.
Additional knowledge of antennae and other microwave devices may provide you an extra edge over your competitors.
Know the systems
Whether you are interested in telecom, datacom, wireless, wide-area networking or voice over IP, everything begins with the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) and plain ordinary telephone service (POTS). Many communication technologies are based on those used in the PSTN. So regardless of the system you are interested in, it is important to have an understanding of the structure and operation of the telephone network. Every other system, including the data rates for digital transmission systems that carry IP packets, can be traced back to this.
Generally, PSTN refers to the combination of lines and switches that form a system of electrical routes through the network. But before exploring the network, be clear with the basics of a telephone—both the equipment and signals. Look at the essential components of your simple age-old telephone set: ringer circuit, on-/off-hook circuit, equaliser circuit, hybrid network, speaker, microphone and dialing circuit; any advanced telecom equipment is built on the same scheme. Other network equipment like station equipment, local loops, trunk circuits and exchanges also need your attention.
In networking, you should know how a central office provides PSTN connection to the customer premise equipment (CPE). A CPE may be an individual phone at a residence or at a private branch exchange (PBX). However, nowadays, electronic PBX (EPBX) are more popular than PBX. You are expected to understand the switching concepts: circuit switching and packet switching. For example, how circuit switching is used for making a standard telephone call on the public telephone network. In fact, circuit switching establishes a dedicated connection between the base and mobile for the entire duration of a call. But in a packet switching operation, single node-to-node link can be dynamically shared by many packets over time, so line efficiency is greater. Here mobile packet data connectivity systems like cellular digital packet data, RAM mobile data and advanced radio data information systems are important to understand.
Bear in mind that any network needs a system to control its traffic. The signaling system is the controlling factor. You need to understand how the common channel signaling systems control telecom traffic. You may even put a special emphasis on the global standards like Common Channel Signaling System No. 7 (SS7 or C7).
Today, SS7 is being used throughout by the Bell Operating Company’s telephone network and most of the independent telephone companies because it has the ability to transfer all types of digital information as well as support most of the new features and applications involved in advanced networks like integrated services digital network (ISDN) and interfaces like asynchronous transfer mode (ATM). Understanding of the network transmission hierarchy may prove useful.
How is telephony designed?
Let’s start with the traditional landline telephone system POTS. It handles both signaling and audio information on the same twisted pair of insulated wires: the telephone line. The signaling equipment consists of a bell, beeper, light or other devices to alert the user of incoming calls, and number buttons or a rotary dial to enter a telephone number for outgoing calls. Explore the small nitty-gritties. Why is a twisted pair preferred over an untwisted pair? How has the system been adapted for data communication such as telex, fax and Internet communication? Such probing will help you to acquire sufficient knowledge to overcome the interview with ease.
It is also beneficial to observe how this end-to-end analogue network has gradually evolved towards digital telephony. Starting with transmission networks modified with T1 carrier systems, use of later technologies such as SONET and fibre-optic transmission methods further facilitates digital transmission.
While today the end instrument remains analogue, the analogue signals are typically converted into digital after reaching the aggregation points: serving area interface or the central office. Digital loop carriers are often used, placing the digital network ever closer to the customer premises, relegating the analogue local loop to legacy status. Here, the network topologies, both infrastructure and ad hoc, demand attention. However, in real systems some customised versions are used depending on the cell concept and frequency of reuse. For example, the main aim of any cellular service provider—increase of customer base within a limited frequency bandwidth—is also achievable by using a special type of infrastructure topology called multi-BS network configuration.
While dealing with the system design, you will face interferences. Two major kinds of interferences are co-channel interference and adjacent-channel interference. Try to get an idea of how to design a system with minimal interference. Expansion of the cellular network capacity is a governing factor behind system design. As a telecommunication engineer, you will handle it with the technologies related to change of cellular architecture, frequency allocation methodology, modem and access technology. Cell splitting and sectoring are the other design techniques used for supporting the orderly growth of a cellular system. Basically, you have to use any specific technique depending on the channel assignment strategies: fixed channel allocation, dynamic channel allocation and hybrid channel allocation.
Access the mobility
Electronic communication began as a relatively simple concept. However, the increased demand for entertainment along with mobility is increasing its complexity. The voice-oriented first-generation (1G) wireless communication has evolved into the 3G system with personal communication service (PCS). Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) has finally launched its 3G mobile services, Jadoo, in limited areas of Delhi. This is the first 3G commercial launch by a telecom provider in India, though there was earlier a soft launch of 3G services in Delhi last year—incidentally by MTNL itself.
The increased complexity and advancements demand advance knowledge from the present-day technologists. Be aware of the key features of each generation of wireless communication systems. For example, the basic network in first generation follows analogue-based advanced mobile telephone system (AMPS). So you are expected to have an overview of channel controlling and call handling in AMPS.
Understand why did the successive generations come? Basic loopholes existing in the 1G system are poor battery performance, unavailability of channels, weak signal strength and poor handoff. So firms have realised the importance of digital technologies to improve battery performance as well as signal quality. 2G systems introduced narrow-band digital signals with global system for mobile communication (GSM). Here the digital cellular techniques like United States digital cellular (USDC) are adapted to provide better service.
Bear in mind, in supporting both the systems, cellular carriers are able to provide new customers with digital USDC phones while providing service to the existing AMPS analogue telephone customers. However, they are gradually replacing analogue base station with digital, channel by channel. This replacement is further facilitated due to high compatibility of USDC with AMPS. That’s why USDC is often called digital AMPS (DAMPS).
Try to get some idea of the interim standards and related protocols. How significant are they? How do different digital control channels define the functionality of the USDC?
You should try to touch the most recent combination of mobility and entertainment—Internet access, music, TV and video, and other entertainment content. Know the path for 3G evolution to 3G/WCDMA. It is the air interface for one of the International Telecommunications Union’s family of third-generation mobile communications systems. It is nice to know how it enables the continued support of voice, text and MMS services in addition to richer mobile multimedia services.
To sum up
Don’t confine yourself to the textbooks. If possible, be a part of any live project which follows the recent trend. For example, in a new trend, global consumer electronics and mobile phone vendors are going green in India. Major players like Nokia, LG, Samsung and Haier, among others, are planning to introduce products that will be positioned on an environment-friendly platform, starting the trend of environment as a brand strategy in the Indian consumer electronics industry.
Bear in mind, with the rural India growth story unfolding, the telecom industry is likely to see tremendous growth in India’s rural and semi-urban areas in the years to come. Are you ready to cope up with this diversity?
The author is a research analyst cum journalist at EFY