ADSL promises jobs bonanza
ADSL will be launched in the UK this summer, and telecoms companies are scrambling for skilled staff in anticipation of demand. Antony Savvas reports

Telecoms companies are promising a jobs bonanza following the introduction of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology this summer.

BT, which will launch its wholesale ADSL service for rival companies to sell on to its customers, told Working in Comms. it intended to take on "several thousand" contract staff to cope with the introduction of ADSL.

A BT spokesman says, "We started a considerable training programme for existing staff quite a few months ago, but in addition to re-skilling we are taking on thousands of staff to work on contracts of between six months and two years."

These staff will mainly be working in the field as engineers and support staff, with others employed in sales and technical support, but all of them will be solely focused on ADSL, says BT.

On the engineering side, those taken on a fixed-term contracts will include staff recently made redundant as part of BT's ongoing cost-cutting programme, which has seen BT make tens of thousands of redunancies since its privatisation in the 1980s.

BT says there will be an opportunity for those on contracts to join the payroll full-time, but this will depend on the take-up of ADSL, further roll outs and "the regulatory climate".

BT has already upgraded 400 telecoms exchanges covering the main UK cites to cope with ADSL - which offers speeds of up to 8mbps to a user's desktop and is hoping its wholesale service will take off.

However, the cost of this wholesale services ranges from £35 to £150 per month, depending on which broadband services are used by the recipient. This is the cost each of BT's rivals must pay to the giant for each customer they deliver an ADSL service to. The cost can come down if companies sign up large numbers of users, but even in that likely situation it is likely that they would have to rely on advertising revenue and other services built around e-commerce to make a profit.

As margins are likely to be tight for those using BT as an ADSL gateway, many suppliers are expected to wait for the unbundling of the local copper loop - the "last mile" to the home or office, which BT owns - before they commit to the market.

This unbundling of the loop, as ordered by industry regulator Oftel, is expected to start taking place by July 2001 at the latest, although the Government is putting pressure on BT to bring the deadline forward. The move will mean more effective competition, and, hopefully, lower prices.

Unbundling will give BT's rivals direct access to its exchanges, and allow them to configure their own services direct to customers. This is already being done in other countries, with the widest unbundled DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) roll-out taking place in Germany. The German telecoms regulator forced the country's main telecoms company Deutsche Telekom to move more quickly in offering access to its exchanges and copper local loop to rivals.

Similar unbundling is taking place in many other countries, including Italy, where a national DSL roll-out has been ordered to be completed by September from almost a standing start.

The UK seems to be lagging behind on DSL, despite being the first in Europe to allow competition to its main incumbent telephone company. However, BT's rivals are already in the process of hiring thousands of new engineers and sales and support staff to cope with the expected explosion in the popularity of ADSL.

Rush Mannan, head of backbone engineering at ISP Concentric Network, says, "Telcos who rush in to compete on the local loop need more qualified engineers to help them compete and install their equipment in BT's exchanges.

"As an ISP, we will not be doing this ourselves, but will be working with our partner Fibernet, whose infrastructure we use."

Voracious appetite

Mannan adds, "If ADSL is adopted with the same voracious appetite as it has been in the US, our network traffic will increase accordingly, requiring a higher rate of upgrade and investment and a vast increase in the demand for network engineers - who are already in short supply.

"However, this is not nearly as significant as the increase in pre and post-sales administration and support staff, who will be required to deal with a product which has a relatively low unit cost yet requires provisioning in the same way as a leased line."

Mannan explains, "In most cases, ADSL lines will be installed for non-technical users, meaning that the level of post-installation support required is significant. That is where the job market will really explode."

Telco Colt is also gearing up for the growth of ADSL. Rob Bratby, Colt's head of regulatory affairs, told Working in Comms., "You have a technology which will have a very wide take-up - the demand for the product will drive the demand for those skills."

Colt's commitment to ADSL should not be in doubt. In December 1999 and March this year, it went to the financial markets to raise money to develop its business. The development of its DSL business in countries including Germany, the UK and Holland was one of the main reasons for the cash request. In December, Colt asked for £700m and received £800m, and in March it wanted £600m, and got well over this figure.

Bratby says, "There could be a 'big bang' in ADSL recruitment by July 2001."

But where will Colt get its ADSL staff. Will it have to poach from BT?

Bratby says, "BT is on a learning curve too, so that's not necessarily the answer, the other companies who have been focused for a while now on introducing ADSL as soon as possible may even have a good head start on BT when it comes to skills."

Colt's first ADSL offering will come before July 2001. Bratby confirms that the company will initially offer BT's wholesale service to its business customers prior to unbundling.

Sean McAvan, Internet development manager at business-to-business ISP Digital Exchange, says, "In offering BT's wholesale ADSL service, there will be a strong need to recruit more support staff to cope."

When unbundling comes, McAvan says, "Those companies willing to buy their own switching equipment to create their own infrastructure will be in the market for hiring their own engineers and other support staff."

Skills shortage

McAvan predicts, "With the convergence of computer and telecoms technologies, and the introduction of many new competitors, the traditional telcos will find themselves facing a skills shortage. They will need to recruit good staff with IP experience in order to remain credible in the face of competition from existing ISPs."

Telco First:telecom recently announced a pan-European DSL roll-out, which includes the UK, and wants new staff now.

Rupert Baines, First:telecom's European data product manager and a founder member of the ADSL Forum standards body, says, "There is a big jobs opportunity because with ADSL the scarcest thing is good people."

First:telecom is primarily focusing on the business market for data services, and will initially offer BT's wholesale ADSL service as part of an evaluation period.

However, BT is concentrating on ADSL rather than other forms of DSL which could also be of great benefit to business. First:telecom's ultimate goal is to exploit this by offering its own tailored service once unbundling has occurred.

Baines explains, "In Germany, we can now offer SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line), which means companies can take advantage of data speeds which are fast in both directions."

With ADSL, the maximum 8mbps is downstream asymmetric. This enables companies to feed consumers e-commerce information quickly. But those consumers and SMEs taking up BT's ADSL will only be able to send data upstream at about 1.5mbps. This is still much faster than combining a couple of ISDN lines to give 128kbps - as offered by BT Highway - but it is a significant difference all the same.

First:telecom is now offering an SDSL service to German businesses that provides speeds of 2.3mbps in both directions, and Baines says the company is hoping to offer a similar service in the UK once unbundling comes to fruition.

Baines says that even though First:telecom can currently only offer such a service in Germany, it is actively recruiting engineers and sales staff to help with its DSL expansion in the UK and France.

Baines says, "We're not necessarily looking for people with DSL experience because it's so rare, just good telecoms people."

And for those who can't wait for the UK launch, Baines says, "I'm living in London and running the German operation out of a Frankfurt office, so those interested in what we're doing in Germany shouldn't be put off."

Telecoms companies are promising a jobs bonanza following the introduction of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology this summer.

BT, which will launch its wholesale ADSL service for rival companies to sell on to their customers, told Working in Comms. it intends to take on "several thousand" contract staff to cope with the introduction of ADSL.

A BT spokesman says, "We started a considerable training programme for existing staff quite a few months ago, but in addition to re-skilling we are taking on thousands of staff to work on contracts of between six months and two years."

These staff will mainly be working in the field as engineers and support staff, with others employed in sales and technical support, but all of them will be solely focused on ADSL, says BT.

On the engineering side, those taken on on fixed-term contracts will include staff recently made redundant as part of BT's ongoing cost-cutting programme, which has seen BT make tens of thousands of redundancies since its privatisation in the 1980s.

BT says there will be an opportunity for those on contracts to join the payroll full-time, but this will depend on the take-up of ADSL, further roll-outs and "the regulatory climate".

BT has already upgraded 400 telecoms exchanges covering the main UK cities to cope with ADSL - which offers speeds of up to 8mbps to a user's desktop - and is hoping its wholesale service will take off.

However, the cost of this wholesale service ranges from £35 to £150 per month, depending on which broadband services are used by the recipient. This is the cost each of BT's rivals must pay to the giant for each customer they deliver an ADSL service to. The cost can come down if companies sign up large numbers of users, but even in that situation it is likely that they would have to rely on advertising revenue and other services built around e-commerce to make a profit.

As margins are likely to be tight for those using BT as an ADSL gateway, many suppliers are expected to wait for the unbundling of the local copper loop - the "last mile" to the home or office, which BT owns - before they commit to the market.

This unbundling of the loop, as ordered by industry regulator Oftel, is expected to start taking place by July 2001 at the latest, although the Government is putting pressure on BT to bring the deadline forward. The move will mean more effective competition, and, hopefully, lower prices.

Unbundling will give BT's rivals direct access to its exchanges, and allow them to configure their own services direct to customers. This is already being done in other countries, with the widest unbundled DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) roll-out taking place in Germany. The German telecoms regulator forced the country's main telecoms company Deutsche Telekom to move more quickly in offering access to its exchanges and copper local loop to rivals.

Similar unbundling is taking place in many other countries, including Italy, where a national DSL roll-out has been ordered to be completed by September from almost a standing start.

The UK seems to be lagging behind on DSL, despite being the first in Europe to allow competition to its main incumbent telephone company. However, BT's rivals are already in the process of hiring thousands of new engineers and sales and support staff to cope with the expected explosion in the popularity of ADSL.

Rush Mannan, head of backbone engineering at ISP Concentric Network, says, "Telcos who rush in to compete on the local loop need more qualified engineers to help them compete and install their equipment in BT's exchanges.

"As an ISP, we will not be doing this ourselves, but will be working with our partner Fibernet, whose infrastructure we use."

Voracious appetite

Mannan adds, "If ADSL is adopted with the same voracious appetite as it has been in the US, our network traffic will increase accordingly, requiring a higher rate of upgrade and investment and a vast increase in the demand for network engineers - who are already in short supply.

"However, this is not nearly as significant as the increase in pre and post-sales administration and support staff, who will be required to deal with a product which has a relatively low unit cost yet requires provisioning in the same way as a leased line."

Mannan explains, "In most cases, ADSL lines will be installed for non-technical users, meaning that the level of post-installation support required is significant. That is where the job market will really explode."

Telco Colt is also gearing up for the growth of ADSL. Rob Bratby, Colt's head of regulatory affairs, told Working in Comms., "You have a technology which will have a very wide take-up - the demand for the product will drive the demand for those skills."

Colt's commitment to ADSL should not be in doubt. In December 1999 and March this year, it went to the financial markets to raise money to develop its business. The development of its DSL business in countries including Germany, the UK and Holland was one of the main reasons for the cash request. In December, Colt asked for £700m and received £800m, and in March it wanted £600m, and got well over this figure.

Bratby says, "There could be a 'big bang' in ADSL recruitment by July 2001."

But where will Colt get its ADSL staff. Will it have to poach from BT?

Bratby says, "BT is on a learning curve too, so that's not necessarily the answer, the other companies who have been focused for a while now on introducing ADSL as soon as possible may even have a good head start on BT when it comes to skills."

Colt's first ADSL offering will come before July 2001. Bratby confirms that the company will initially offer BT's wholesale service to its business customers prior to unbundling.

Sean McAvan, Internet development manager at business-to-business ISP Digital Exchange, says, "In offering BT's wholesale ADSL service, there will be a strong need to recruit more support staff to cope."

When unbundling comes, McAvan says, "Those companies willing to buy their own switching equipment to create their own infrastructure will be in the market for hiring their own engineers and other support staff."

Skills shortage

McAvan predicts, "With the convergence of computer and telecoms technologies, and the introduction of many new competitors, the traditional telcos will find themselves facing a skills shortage. They will need to recruit good staff with IP experience in order to remain credible in the face of competition from existing ISPs."

Telco First:telecom recently announced a pan-European DSL roll-out, which includes the UK, and wants new staff now.

Rupert Baines, First:telecom's European data product manager and a founder member of the ADSL Forum standards body, says, "There is a big jobs opportunity because with ADSL the scarcest thing is good people."

First:telecom is primarily focusing on the business market for data services, and will initially offer BT's wholesale ADSL service as part of an evaluation period.

However, BT is concentrating on ADSL rather than other forms of DSL which could also be of great benefit to business. First:telecom's ultimate goal is to exploit this by offering its own tailored service once unbundling has occurred.

Baines explains, "In Germany, we can now offer SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line), which means companies can take advantage of data speeds which are fast in both directions."

With ADSL, the maximum 8mbps is downstream asymmetric. This enables companies to feed consumers e-commerce information quickly. But those consumers and SMEs taking up BT's ADSL will only be able to send data upstream at about 1.5mbps. This is still much faster than combining a couple of ISDN lines to give 128kbps - as offered by BT Highway - but it is a significant difference all the same.

First:telecom is now offering an SDSL service to German businesses that provides speeds of 2.3mbps in both directions, and Baines says the company is hoping to offer a similar service in the UK once unbundling comes to fruition.

Baines says that even though First:telecom can currently only offer such a service in Germany, it is actively recruiting engineers and sales staff to help with its DSL expansion in the UK and France.

Baines says, "We're not necessarily looking for people with DSL experience because it's so rare, just good telecoms people."

And for those who can't wait for the UK launch, Baines says, "I'm living in London and running the German operation out of a Frankfurt office, so those interested in what we're doing in Germany shouldn't be put off."


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This was first published in May 2000

 

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