Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.
December 18, 2023
It has been a miserable year for telecom sector employees on both the vendor and operator sides. Ericsson revealed plans to cut 8,500 jobs around the time of Mobile World Congress Barcelona. Months later, Nokia said it would be forced to slash between 9,000 and 14,000 amid a lack of telco enthusiasm for buying vendor products. AT&T's workforce has contracted by more than 10,000 jobs since the start of the year. Verizon's has shrunk by 6,600.
When will it end? Probably not in the foreseeable future, as corporate bosses coo excitedly about generative artificial intelligence (AI) and consider how they can use it to save money. Ericsson had managed a net reduction of just 4,200 jobs by the end of September. Nokia will have barely begun its own program of layoffs. Since 2018, AT&T and Verizon together have shed 172,200 jobs. Europe's big operators are similarly hacking into the workforce. Vodafone aims to cut 11,000 jobs. In May, Philip Jansen, the exiting boss of BT, reckoned the UK operator could feasibly lose 55,000 of the 130,000 people it then employed (including contractors) by 2030.
No doubt, cuts are partly a response to financial malaise. Telcos, broadly speaking, have picked up all the customers they can and failed to expand beyond the sale of data connectivity. In Europe, efforts to buy or merge with rivals have been shot down by regulators. Internet companies have become fiercer rivals, putting further downward pressure on prices. Only by reducing costs have many telcos been able to safeguard their profits at historical levels and pay off their long standing debts.
In this context, it is hardly a surprise that AI should stoke employee concerns. Operators such as AT&T, Telenor and Vodafone have already attributed some cuts to automation. Chatbots minimize the need for customer service assistants. With intent-based systems, a person can specify the objective and leave bots to carry out the tasks previously handled by other people. Software increasingly writes itself. Networks and network operations centers are becoming "zero touch," as industry folk say. A source who was formerly a senior technical executive in a telco reckons there is no part of the network that cannot be automated.
The real question is whether people will be needed at all. But entrusting customer relationships and critical systems to AI would be incredibly risky. As sophisticated as it might be, generative AI is evidently prone to making mistakes, the phenomenon of so-called "hallucinations." Strictly speaking, the AI label is a misnomer. ChatGPT and its brethren clearly do not think or understand as humans do. At best, they do Internet-based pattern recognition to a very high level.
With all this in mind, if society turns mundane and repetitive but extremely important tasks over to machines, people may eventually lose the skills needed to perform them. The implication is that society becomes even more dependent on technology than it already is, which is all very well until AI begins living up to its name.
On that cheery note, here's a roundup of Light Reading stories from the past year on the topic of jobs and layoffs:
11/8/2023 – Dish confirms more layoffs
10/30/2023 – Verizon has axed another 6,600 jobs so far this year
10/20/2023 – AT&T seems on a mission to be a zero-employee telco
10/12/2023 – Qualcomm to cut more than 1,000 jobs – report
7/11/2023 – Dish cuts jobs as financing troubles loom
5/18/2023 – BT boss prophesies jobs carnage in AIpocalypse
1/25/2023 – AT&T and Verizon cut 9,400 jobs last quarter
International Editor, Light Reading
Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).
You May Also Like
Rethinking AIOPs — It's All About the DataMar 12, 2024
SCTE® LiveLearning for Professionals Webinar™ Series: Fiddling with Fixed WirelessMar 21, 2024
SCTE® LiveLearning for Professionals Webinar™ Series: Cable and 5G: The Odd Couple?Apr 18, 2024
SCTE® LiveLearning for Professionals Webinar™ Series: Delivering the DAA DifferenceMay 16, 2024