Operators Still Seeking LTE Engineers

Long Term Evolution (LTE) engineers are still in hot demand right now, as wireless operators deploy, fine-tune, and fix their next-generation networks. And, according to Light Reading's 2010/2011 Salary Survey, engineers are moving around more than ever and pulling in higher salaries than their peers.

Of our 500 service-provider survey respondents, 320 came from wireless or integrated telecom network operators. Of those, 14 percent held engineering management roles, with another 21 percent employed as engineering staff.

On average, our survey suggests that engineers employed at wireless or integrated telecom operators had been at their jobs fewer years than their counterparts in the rest of the industry. That's because engineering roles tend to be more transient with a high degree of mobility, says Randy Chambers, telecommunications recruiter for The Telecom Search Group, which has seen a recent uptick in queries for engineers with LTE experience.

Engineering salaries are just starting to reflect this trend, though. Back in the '90s and early 2000s, when the telecom industry was thriving, good radio frequency (RF) and network engineers were pulling in around $140K, Chambers says, but when the recession hit two years ago, salaries suffered. They're only just starting to recover as engineers have many options for LTE buildouts and operators have equally many options for qualified candidates.

"It's a situation where [engineers] are constantly moving around, but at a lesser salary than they had in the '90s when there was a shortage of good engineers," Chambers says.

Table 1: Management Salaries in 2010
Under $55 $55 to $85 $85 to $120 $120 to $150 $150 and above
Engineering Management 16% 18% 47% 18% 2%
Network Operations Management 22% 39% 35% 4% 0%
Product Development Management 15% 35% 35% 15% 0%
Sales and Marketing Management 22% 16% 43% 19% 0%
Source: Light Reading. Salaries listed in thousands, USD

Of our respondents in engineering management positions, 32 percent make more than $100,000 and most expect it to improve. Sixty-three percent think they will make more money this year than last, and 69 percent believe they'll make at least somewhat more in 2011 than this year.

Engineering hiring frenzy
The good news for the engineering talent pool is that hiring is on the upswing. The bulk of the work in building LTE networks may be complete, but actual launches are just beginning.

LTE equipment supplier Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , for example, is anticipating LTE networks to exceed 100 by 2011. The vendor has already won 18 contracts and expects that to double next year. The growth in LTE is clearly going to be huge, meaning the need for engineers won't go away any time soon.

Engineers in our survey said 32 percent of their employers have added to headcount in the past year, and 28 percent expect to make additions next year.

Movement in the industry is set to continue too. In terms of what would drive engineers to leave their current employer, the engineers' responses were comparable to the rest of their peers: 73 percent would leave for a significant compensation increase and 70 percent for better career advancement.

That being said, almost half were at least somewhat likely to leave their employer within the next year, even though 70 percent reported being somewhat or very satisfied with their current employer. Twenty-five percent thought they were well positioned for success individually, and 45 percent thought they needed to find a better career path.

Who's hiring
Luckily for the engineers, they have options at a number of wireless operators and vendors working on LTE. Currently, all of the major US service providers -- even those without announced LTE plans -- are seeking engineering talent for their 4G networks. At press time, here's a snapshot of what they were looking for. (See Concurrent Hires Engineering, Mobile Help, Samsung Looking for Android-on-LTE Expertise, and What Is Broadcom's LTE Strategy?)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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