August 28, 2019 | by Barbara Nicholas

Preparing a Workforce to Implement 5G

The telecommunications industry is experiencing explosive growth. Never before has there been a greater demand for mobile data. Government, enterprises, municipalities, and consumers expect seamless connectivity at every step.  Whether streaming on Facebook Live from the big game, monitoring stock market changes on the subway, or uploading critical field data, mobile data is powering the way we move through life. 

To support the capacity demands of so many devices carriers are expanding their networks in rural areas and working to build out 5G infrastructure as quickly as possible. However, deploying 5G is not as simple as upgrading existing equipment. 

5G networks operate based on a series of small cell sites. Each of these sites must be installed and connected to make 5G speeds available. This fundamental shift means that instead of building and maintaining a large tower to provide up to 45 miles of coverage, carriers will install and maintain small cell sites as close as every 500 feet. The sheer density of a small cell 5G network and number of sites that must be installed and deployed translates into a substantial increase in labor demands. 

In addition to the challenges presented by site density and the implementation of new technology and equipment, carriers and the wireless construction industry must continue to maintain the existing infrastructure while funneling assets and resources toward the development of a 5G network. 

The tower construction industry estimates that it will need to nearly double its workforce in order to upgrade America’s networks to 5G. - Brandon Carr, FCC Commissioner 

Why is 5G So Important?

Without 5G connectivity, the telecommunications industry cannot meet the demands of residential and business partners. This includes the advancement of:

  • Telemedicine
  • Medical Robotics
  • Smart Cities
  • Big Banking 
  • Manufacturing and Industrial IoT
  • Smart Grids for Energy and Utility Services
  • Self-Driving Vehicles
  • Connected Public Transit

One major hurdle standing in the way of 5G network development is a lack of skilled labor. There are simply not enough experienced workers to handle the build-out of an extensive 5G network while maintaining and even updating the country's existing infrastructure. 

5G implementation demands workers with radio frequency (RF) engineering knowledge and range of service experience. In many cases, these engineers must review designs and assess feasibility. It is not enough to just follow the plan presented. Instead, engineers developing a 5G network must verify that the placement of each site will meet the coverage needs of the project.

As the population moves away from trade-based professions, it is becoming increasingly difficult to educate and prepare enough resources to fill these positions.

Sixty-eight percent of workers claim that Training and Development is the most important company policy. - ClearCompany

Taking on Training

In many ways, it is up to the wireless telecommunications industry to begin preparing their future 5G network laborers. To accomplish this, some are electing to create mentorship programs that partner seasoned workers with new hires. This enables new hires to build a foundation of wireless construction knowledge and RF knowledge while working in the industry. 

To further support the development of a skilled labor force, companies are also implementing internal education centers. These centers combine education in the latest industry innovations with company- and industry-specific standards to develop an employee that not only understands the technology and has the skills to implement it, but also knows how requirements change from one carrier to the next. 

Utilizing an approach that educates workers in a way that encourages knowledge retention and verifies real-world application is critical to the success of internal programs. It also creates an environment in which existing workers can participate in an educational program that creates opportunities for mobility within the company and eases continuing education and recertification burdens.

Preparing for the future of the wireless telecommunications industry is critical to the success of many other technological advances across a vast number of industries. As such, it is in the best interest of those both inside and outside the industry to begin tackling the labor gap and developing resources that streamline wireless construction education.