Significant Points
  • Telecommunications includes voice, video, and Internet communications services.
  • Employment will grow because technological advances will expand the range of services offered.
  • With rapid technological changes in telecommunications, those with up-to-date technical skills will have the best job opportunities.
  • Average earnings in telecommunications greatly exceed average earnings throughout private industry.

Nature of the Industry [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Goods and services. The telecommunications industry delivers voice communications, data, graphics, television, and video at ever increasing speeds and in an increasing number of ways. Whereas wireline telephone communication was once the primary service of the industry, wireless communication services, Internet service, and cable and satellite program distribution make up an increasing share of the industry.

Industry organization. The largest sector of the telecommunications industry continues to be made up of wired telecommunications carriers. Establishments in this sector mainly provide telecommunications services via wires and cables that connect customers’ premises to central offices maintained by telecommunications companies. The central offices contain switching equipment that routes content to its final destination or to another switching center that determines the most efficient route for the content to take. These companies also maintain the cable network that connects different regions of the country as well as foreign countries, and forms the backbone of the industry. While voice used to be the main type of data transmitted over the wires, wired telecommunications service now includes the transmission of all types of graphic, video, and electronic data mainly over the Internet.

These new services are made possible through the use of digital technologies that provide much more efficient use of the telecommunications networks. One major technology breaks digital signals into packets during transmission. Networks of computerized switching equipment route the packets. Packets may take separate paths to their destination and may share the paths with packets from other users. At the destination, the packets are reassembled, and the transmission is completed. Because packet switching considers alternate routes, and allows multiple transmissions to share the same route, it results in a more efficient use of telecommunications capacity as packets are routed along less congested routes.

The transmission of voice signals requires relatively small amounts of capacity on telecommunications networks. By contrast, the transmission of data, video, and graphics requires much higher capacity. This transmission capacity is referred to as “bandwidth.” As the demand increases for high-capacity transmissions—especially with the rising volume of Internet data—telecommunications companies have been expanding and upgrading their networks to increase the amount of available bandwidth.

Cable and other program distribution is another sector of the telecommunications industry. Establishments in this sector provide television and other services on a subscription or fee basis. These establishments do not include cable networks. (Information on cable networks is included in the section on broadcasting, which appears elsewhere in the Career Guide.) Distributors of pay television services transmit programming through two basic types of systems. Cable systems transmit programs over fiber optic and coaxial cables. Direct broadcasting satellite (DBS) operators constitute a growing segment of the pay television industry. DBS operators transmit programming from orbiting satellites to customers’ receivers, known as minidishes. Establishments in the cable and other program distribution industry generate revenue through subscriptions, providing Internet access, providing phone service, and advertising sales. They also charge fees for pay-per-view or video-on-demand programs.

Wireless telecommunications carriers, many of which are subsidiaries of the wired carriers, transmit voice, graphics, data, and Internet access through the transmission of signals over networks of radio towers. The signal is transmitted through an antenna into the wireline network. Increasing numbers of consumers are choosing to replace their home landline phones with wireless phones. Other wireless services include beeper and paging services.

Resellers of telecommunications services are another sector of the telecommunications industry. These resellers lease transmission facilities, such as telephone lines or space on a satellite, from existing telecommunications networks, and then resell the service to other customers. Other sectors in the industry include message communications services such as e-mail and facsimile services, satellite telecommunications, and operators of other communication services ranging from radar stations to radio networks used by taxicab companies.

Recent developments. Telecommunications carriers are expanding their bandwidth by replacing copper wires with fiber optic cable. Fiber optic cable, which transmits light signals along glass strands, permits faster, higher capacity transmissions than traditional copper wirelines. In some areas, carriers are extending fiber optic cable to residential customers, enabling them to offer cable television, video-on-demand, very high-speed Internet, and conventional telephone communications over a single line. However, the high cost of extending fiber to homes has slowed deployment. In most areas, wired carriers are instead leveraging existing copper lines that connect most residential customers with a central office, to provide digital subscriber lines (DSL) Internet service. Technologies in development will further boost the speeds and services available through a DSL connection.

Changes in technology and regulation now allow cable television providers to compete directly with telephone companies. An important change has been the rapid increase in two-way communications capacity. Conventional pay television services provided communications only from the distributor to the customer. These services could not provide effective communications from the customer back to other points in the system due to signal interference and the limited capacity of conventional cable systems. Cable operators are implementing new technologies to reduce signal interference and increase the capacity of their distribution systems by installing fiber optic cables and improving data compression. This allows some pay television systems to offer two-way telecommunications services, such as video-on-demand and high-speed Internet access.

Cable companies are increasing their share of the telephone communications market by using high-speed Internet access to provide VoIP (voice over Internet protocol). VoIP is sometimes called Internet telephony, because it uses the Internet to transmit phone calls. While conventional phone networks use packet switching to break up a call onto multiple shared lines between central offices, VoIP extends this process to the phone. A VoIP phone will break the conversation into digital packets and transmit those packets over a high-speed Internet connection. Cable companies use the technology to offer phone services without building a conventional phone network. Wireline providers’ high-speed Internet connections also can be used for VoIP and cellular phones are being developed that use VoIP to make calls using local wireless Internet connections. All of the major sectors of the telecommunications industry are or will increasingly use VoIP.

Wireless telecommunications carriers are deploying several new technologies to allow faster data transmission and better Internet access that should make them more competitive with wireline carriers. With faster Internet connections speeds, wireless carriers are selling music, videos, and other exclusive content that can be downloaded and played on cellular phones. Wireless equipment companies are developing the next generation of technologies that will allow even faster data transmission. The replacement of landlines with cellular service should become increasingly common because advances in wireless systems will provide ever faster data transmission speeds.

Working Conditions [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Hours. The telecommunications industry offers steady, year-round employment. 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.

Work environment. Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations account for 1 in 4 telecommunications jobs. One of the largest occupations is telecommunications line installers and repairers, who work in a variety of places, both indoors and outdoors, and in all kinds of weather. Their work involves lifting, climbing, reaching, stooping, crouching, and crawling. They must work in high places such as rooftops and telephone poles, or below ground when working with buried lines. Their jobs bring them into proximity with electrical wires and circuits, so they must take precautions to avoid shocks. These workers must wear safety equipment when entering manholes, and test for the presence of gas before going underground.

Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, except line installers, generally work indoors—most often in a telecommunication company’s central office or a customer’s home or place of business. They may have to stand for long periods; climb ladders; and do some reaching, stooping, and light lifting. Following safety procedures is essential to guard against work injuries such as minor burns and electrical shock.

Most communications equipment operators, such as telephone operators, work at video display terminals in pleasant, well-lighted, air-conditioned surroundings. The rapid pace of the job and close supervision may cause stress. Some workplaces have introduced innovative practices among their operators to reduce job-related stress.

Most other telecommunications managers, administrative workers, and professionals work 40-hour weeks in comfortable offices. Customer service representatives may work in call centers where they answer customer service calls—many during evening and weekend hours.

In past years the number of disabling injuries in telephone communications, the principal sector of the telecommunications industry, has been well below the average for all industries.

Employment [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

The telecommunications industry provided 973,000 wage and salary jobs in 2006. Wired telecommunications carriers accounted for 49 percent of all telecommunications jobs in 2006, while 21 percent of jobs were with the wireless telecommunications carriers, and 15 percent were with cable and other program distributors. The remaining jobs were mostly with satellite telecommunications and telecommunications resellers.

More than half of telecommunications employees work in small to medium size establishments employing between 5 and 249 workers (chart 1). With continuing deregulation, the number of small contractors has been increasing. Telecommunications jobs are found in almost every community, but most employees work in cities that have large concentrations of industrial and business establishments.

About 70 percent of workers in the telecommunications industry are employed by establishments with 50 or more jobs.

Occupations in the Industry [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Although the telecommunications industry employs workers in many different occupations, 56 percent of all workers are employed in either installation, maintenance, and repair occupations or office and administrative support occupations (table 1).

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations. Telecommunications craft workers install, repair, and maintain telephone equipment, cables and access lines, and telecommunications systems. These workers can be grouped by the type of work they perform. Line installers and repairers connect central offices to customers’ buildings. They install poles and terminals, and place wires and cables that lead to a consumer’s premises. Some may install lines or equipment inside a customer’s business or residence. They use power-driven equipment to dig holes and set telephone poles. Line installers climb the poles or work in truck-mounted buckets (aerial work platforms) that lift them up to lines and attach the cables using various handtools. After line installers place cables on poles or towers or in underground conduits and trenches, they complete the line connections. Some line installers, called cable splicers, specialize in splicing together two telecommunication lines.

Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, except line installers, install, repair, and maintain the array of increasingly complex and sophisticated communications equipment and cables. Their work includes setting up, rearranging, and removing the complex switching and dialing equipment used in central offices. They may also solve network-related problems and program equipment to provide special features.

Some telecommunications equipment installers are referred to as telephone station installers and repairers. They install, service, and repair telephone systems and other communications equipment on customers’ property. When customers move or request new types of service, such as a high-speed Internet connection, a fax, or an additional line, installers relocate telephones or make changes in existing equipment. They assemble equipment and install wiring. They also connect telephones to outside service wires and sometimes must climb poles or ladders to make these connections.

Cable installers travel to customers’ premises to set up pay television service so that customers can receive programming. Cable service installers connect a customer’s television set to the cable serving the entire neighborhood. Wireless and satellite service installers attach antennas or satellite dishes to the sides of customers’ houses. These devices must be positioned to provide clear lines of sight to satellite locations. (Satellite installation may be handled by employees of retail stores that sell satellite dishes. Such workers are not employed by the telecommunications industry.) Installers check the strength and clarity of the television signal before completing the installation. They also may need to explain to the subscriber how pay television services operate. As these services expand to include telephone and high-speed Internet access, it is increasingly important that they have an understanding of these services’ basic technology and computer software and be able to communicate that knowledge to customers.

Office and administrative support occupations. Telephone operators make telephone connections, assist customers with specialized services such as reverse-charge calls, and provide telephone numbers. They also may provide emergency assistance.

Customer service representatives help customers understand the new and varied types of services offered by telecommunications providers. Some customer service representatives also are expected to sell services and may work on a commission basis. Other administrative support workers include financial, information, and records clerks; secretaries and administrative assistants; and first-line supervisors/managers of office and administrative support workers. These workers keep service records, compile and send bills to customers, and prepare statistical and other company reports, among other duties.

Professional and sales occupations. Seventeen percent of the industry’s employees are professional workers. (Many additional workers in these occupations are employed at the headquarters or research facilities of the companies, establishments included in other industries, not the telecommunications industry.) Many of these are scientific and technical personnel such as engineers and computer specialists. Engineers plan cable and microwave routes, central office and PBX equipment installations, and 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 software products. 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, e-mail, and call waiting. Telecommunications specialists coordinate the installation of these systems and may provide follow-up maintenance and training. In addition, the industry employs many other managerial, business and financial, professional, and technical workers, such as accountants and auditors; human resources, training, and labor relations managers; engineering technicians; and computer programmers.

Seventeen percent of the industry’s employees are in sales and related occupations. In addition to selling telecommunications and related services to businesses and residential customers, the industry employs a large number of advertising sales workers that sell advertising on their cable or satellite systems or for their telephone directories.

Table 1. Employment of wage and salary workers in telecommunications by occupation, 2006 and projected change, 2006-2016.
(Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2006 Percent
Number Percent

All occupations

973 100.0 5.0

Management, business, and financial occupations

102 10.5 3.6

General and operations managers

9 0.9 -3.0

Marketing and sales managers

8 0.8 8.9

Computer and information systems managers

5 0.6 3.6

Purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products

5 0.5 0.9

Human resources, training, and labor relations specialists

9 1.0 10.2

Management analysts

6 0.7 -5.7

Accountants and auditors

8 0.8 1.3

Financial analysts

5 0.5 13.6

Professional and related occupations

160 16.5 6.8

Computer software engineers

26 2.7 9.0

Computer support specialists

13 1.4 10.4

Computer systems analysts

9 1.0 12.4

Network and computer systems administrators

15 1.5 2.6

Network systems and data communications analysts

21 2.2 26.1

Electrical and electronics engineers

26 2.7 2.2

Electrical and electronic engineering technicians

13 1.4 -6.2

Market research analysts

6 0.6 3.8

Sales and related occupations

162 16.7 10.7

Supervisors, sales workers

16 1.7 10.9

Retail salespersons

37 3.8 24.4

Sales representatives, services

66 6.7 14.1

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing

15 1.6 8.4

Sales engineers

5 0.5 -9.9


19 2.0 -21.3

Office and administrative support occupations

283 29.0 8.9

First-line supervisors/managers of office and administrative support workers

21 2.1 -0.9

Telephone operators

18 1.8 -45.0

Bill and account collectors

8 0.8 15.1

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

10 1.1 2.1

Customer service representatives

137 14.1 28.3

Order clerks

12 1.2 -37.0

Dispatchers, except police, fire, and ambulance

5 0.5 9.4

Secretaries and administrative assistants

16 1.6 0.9

Office clerks, general

17 1.8 2.2

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

258 26.6 -3.3

First-line supervisors/managers of mechanics, installers, and repairers

19 1.9 -1.9

Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, except line installers

126 13.0 -8.5

Electrical and electronics repairers, commercial and industrial equipment

3 0.3 30.6

Electronic home entertainment equipment installers and repairers

4 0.4 29.3

Telecommunications line installers and repairers

90 9.2 -0.4

Note: Columns may not add to totals due to omission of occupations with small employment

Training and Advancement [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Training is a key component in the careers of most who work in the telecommunications industry. Due to the rapid introduction of new technologies and services, the telecommunications industry is among the most rapidly changing in the economy. This means workers must keep their job skills up to date. From managers to communications equipment operators, increased knowledge of both computer hardware and software is of paramount importance. Telecommunications industry employers now look for workers with knowledge of and skills in computer programming and software design; voice telephone technology, known as telephony; laser and fiber optic technology; wireless technology; and data compression. Several major companies and the telecommunications unions have created a Web site that provides free training for employees, enabling them to keep their knowledge current and helping them to advance.

The telecommunications industry offers employment in jobs requiring a variety of skills and training. Many jobs require at least a high school diploma or an associate degree in addition to on-the-job training. Other jobs require particular skills that may take several years of experience to learn completely. For some managerial, professional, and maintenance and repair jobs, employers require a college education.

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations. Telecommunications line installers and repairers often are hired initially as helpers, grounds workers, or tree trimmers who clear branches from lines. Because the work entails a lot of climbing, applicants should have physical stamina and be unafraid of heights. The ability to distinguish colors is important because wires and cables are coded by color. Although many line installers and repairers do not complete a formal apprenticeship, they generally receive several years of on-the-job training, which may also include some classroom or online training. Line installers may transfer to other highly skilled jobs, such as telecommunications equipment installer and repairer, or may move into other kinds of work, such as sales. Promotion to crew supervisor, technical staff, or instructor of new employees also is possible.

Most companies prefer to hire telecommunications equipment installers and repairers with postsecondary training in electronics; some choose to hire persons with experience as line installers. Training sources include 2- and 4-year college programs in electronics or communications, trade schools, and training provided by telecommunications companies and equipment and software manufacturers. Employers often provide training to help equipment installers and repairers to keep up-to-date with advances in current technology and improve their skills. The National Coalition For Telecommunications Education and Learning (NACTEL) is one of several organizations that work with companies and unions to offer such training. Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers may advance to jobs maintaining more sophisticated equipment or to engineering technician positions.

Office and administrative occupations. Communications equipment operators should have clear speech and good hearing; computer literacy and keyboarding skills also are important. New operators learn equipment operation and procedures for maximizing efficiency. Instructors monitor both the time and quality of trainees’ responses to customer requests. Formal classroom instruction and on-the-job training may last several weeks.

Professional and sales occupations. A bachelor’s degree in engineering usually is required for entry-level jobs as electrical and electronics engineers. Continuing education is important for these engineers; those who fail to keep up with the rapid changes in technology risk technological obsolescence, which makes them more susceptible to layoffs or, at a minimum, more likely to be passed over for advancement.

While there is no universally accepted way to prepare for a job as a computer professional, most employers place a premium on some formal college education. Computer software engineers usually hold a degree in computer science or in software engineering. For systems analyst, computer scientist, or database administrator positions, many employers seek applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information science, or management information systems.

For sales jobs, individuals are sought with sales ability enhanced by interpersonal skills and knowledge of telecommunications terminology.

Outlook [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Greater demand for an increasing number of telecommunications services will cause overall employment in the telecommunications industry to increase. In addition, many job opportunities will result from the need to replace a large number of workers who are expected to retire in the coming decade.

Employment change. Employment in the telecommunications industry is expected to increase by 5 percent over the 2006-16 period, compared with 11 percent growth for all industries combined. The building of more advanced communications networks, such as fiber optic lines, faster wireless networks, and advanced switching equipment, will increase employment, particularly in the near term. In the long-term, employment gains will be partially offset by the improved reliability of these advanced networks which is expected to reduce maintenance requirements.

These improvements in the telecommunications networks are expected to result in greater demand by people and businesses for ever wider ranges of telecommunications services. Residences will demand more services such as high-speed Internet, video-on-demand, and wireless and Internet-based telephone services. Businesses will demand faster and improved telecommunications systems to conduct electronic commerce, ordering, record keeping, and video conferencing. These services are being supplied increasingly by all the competing sectors of the industry, as the lines become blurred between cable and satellite TV, wireless, and wireline telecommunications systems. However, employment is projected to vary by sector. Wireless companies will continue to expand their networks and increase the density of their towers to provide higher speed services, which will cause employment to grow in this sector. Cable distribution companies also will grow as they upgrade their networks to expand the array of channels and other services they offer. Wired telecommunications carriers are expected to employ fewer people as a result of increased competition from wireless and cable distribution companies. The growth of these services will lead to continued upgrades of telecommunications networks and the continuing need for workers to install and repair the communications network. Demand for high-speed global bandwidth by businesses and consumers will drive growth in the construction of undersea cables and orbiting satellites.

Employment is projected to differ among the various occupations in the telecommunications industry. As more residences and businesses become wired and the networks become more reliable, the need for installation and repair workers will show little change or decline, but as the number of services offered increases and competition between companies grows, sales and customer service workers will grow and make up a larger portion of the workforce.

Employment of line installers and repairers is expected to show little change as increasing installations are offset by newer more reliable networks and greater use of wireless technology. Employment of telecommunications equipment installers and repairers is expected to decline 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 installation work to specialized contractors that are part of the construction or retail industries.

Sales occupations and customer service representatives will have the largest increases in employment. These people are needed to sell the wider array of services being offered and to answer customer’s questions about these increasingly complex services and to help solve problems when they arise.

Employment of electrical and electronics engineers and computer professionals also are expected to grow. The expansion of communications networks and the need for telecommunications providers to invest in research and development will create job opportunities for these workers.

Employment of telephone 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 will drop further as more customers use automated directory assistance resources on the Internet.

Job prospects. With a growing number of retirements and the continuing need for skilled workers, good job opportunities will be available for individuals with up-to-date technical skills. Jobs prospects will be best for those with 2 or 4-year degrees.

Earnings [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Industry earnings. Average weekly earnings of nonsupervisory workers in the telecommunications industry were $963 in 2006, significantly higher than average earnings of $579 in private industry. Table 2 presents earnings in selected occupations in telecommunications in 2006.

Table 2. Median hourly earnings of the largest occupations in telecommunications, May 2006
Occupation Telecommunications All industries

Electronics engineers, except computer

$35.28 $38.97

Network systems and data communications analysts

34.11 31.06

Business operations specialists, all other

32.28 26.76

First-line supervisors/managers of office and administrative support workers

26.37 20.92

Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, except line installers

26.07 25.21

Telecommunications line installers and repairers

25.43 22.25

Sales representatives, services, all other

23.13 23.12


16.16 10.09

Customer service representatives

15.62 13.62

Retail salespersons

11.10 9.50

Benefits and union membership. Most full-time workers in the utilities industry receive substantial benefits in addition to their salaries or hourly wages. This is particularly true for those workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Twenty-two percent of employees in the industry are union members or covered by union contracts, compared with about 13 percent for all industries. Most telecommunications employees belong to the Communications Workers of America or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Links to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

For information about employment opportunities, contact your local telecommunications company, or:

  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Telecommunications Department, 900 Seventh St. NW., Washington, DC 20001.
  • Communications Workers of America, 501 3rd St. NW., Washington, DC 20001.

For information about certifications and courses in telecommunications, particularly for those already in the telecommunications industry, contact:

  • NACTEL National Coalition For Telecommunications Education and Learning, CAEL, 6021 South Syracuse Way, Suite 213 Greenwood Village, CO 80111. Internet:

For information about certifications and courses on cable and telecommunications technology, contact:

  • Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE), 140 Phillips Rd., Exton, PA 19341-1318. Internet:

More information about the following occupations in the telecommunications industry appears in the 2008-09 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

NAICS Codes [About the NAICS codes] Back to TopBack to Top


Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Telecommunications, on the Internet at (visited September 17, 2008 ).


Last Modified Date: March 12, 2008