Bandwidth boffins wanted

Increasing demand for bandwidth is keeping network specialists extremely busy, writes Nick Langley

Increasing demand for bandwidth is keeping network specialists extremely busy, writes Nick Langley

What is bandwidth?

A way of communicating voice and data between sites, using public or private networks. Technologies include asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), frame relay and X.25.

Who supplies it?

The majority of network product suppliers support most, if not all, Wan technologies, so users can mix and match to suit their needs. Cisco, for example, offers cell relay via the Switched Multimegabit Data Service (SMDS), circuit switching via ISDN, packet switching via Frame Relay, and both circuit and packet switching via ATM.

What's it for?

ATM is a cell-switching and multiplexing technology that combines the benefits of circuit switching (constant transmission and guaranteed capacity) with those of packet switching (flexibility and efficiency for intermittent traffic). It can carry a mixture of bursty, irregular data traffic, and traffic that is time sensitive, such as video and audio.

Frame relay is a packet switching network used for carrying large volumes of data (BT also offers a voice-over-data capability on FR). It has often been used to replace leased-line point-to-point connections. Frame relay is a "cloud-based" technology - in place of a mesh of fixed lines, any site can connect to other sites connected to that cloud.

X.25 is a standard defining how connections between data terminal and data communications equipment are maintained, for remote terminal access and computer communications. It's old, but it works, and a lot of people still rely on it.

Is it a growing industry?

Last summer's seventh annual Black Box Network Industry Survey reported that the continuing upsurge in demand for bandwidth was creating a bonanza for networking technology suppliers. In the previous 18 months, the installed base of ATM had increased by 38% and Frame Relay by 100%.

How difficult is it?

Wide area networking and telecommunications form a profession in their own right, although it is increasingly being subsumed by the IT department. But there are introductory courses which will at least enable you to know what Wan specialists are talking about.

What's the work like?

A survey by Voyager Networks found that 82% of network managers work a 50-hour week. Some 10% put in 60 hours. Only 10% work an eight-hour day. Nearly 75% often work at weekends, and 67% are sometimes asked to be on 24-hour call. Voyager attributes the ever-increasing workload to the growth of new technologies and applications, such as Voice over IP and e-commerce, with the growth of increasingly complex networking environments.

Any chance of getting your training funded?

Black Box's survey found 54% of IT directors are suffering from a shortage of skilled staff. But the same directors have a blind spot about investing in people. Some 48% of network technicians are worried about the funding of training. Two out of three SMEs have no technically-qualified personnel, and only 9% of SMEs offered training to staff in the past 12 months.

However, the situation is improving, with employers offering training as part of a package to attract datacommunications professionals.

Not to be confused with

Automatic teller machines. A bank's ATM is a hole in the wall you get money out of. Network ATM is a hole in the ground you put money into.

Few people know that

ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), a technology held back in the UK largely by the absurdly high charges levied by telcos, was re-christened "Integration Subscribers Don't Need" by industry insiders.

What's coming up?

Frame Relay, ATM and X.25, and so on for Linux.

Training

The Telecommunications Vocational Standards Council has been reborn as NTOtele.com, with founding sponsorship from BT and Nortel. It works with the ITNTO, among others, on NVQs and other vocational qualifications.

Training is available from networking suppliers' training partners, who also provide solid grounding in general wide area networking concepts.

  • ntotele.com/01908 240120

  • Geotrain (Cisco specialist): 01628-594700

  • The Knowledge Centre 01252-715155

    Rates of pay

    The skills shortage means there are plenty of good packages on offer, including cross-training to complement your existing skills, and training for professional or supplier certification. Hot skill of the moment is SDH (Synchronous Digital Hierarchy). For more information on the profession, contact the TMA either via their Web site (www.tmav.com) or on 01372-361000.

    Systems developer £36,500
    Senior systems developer £43,000
    Communications network manager £45,864
    Project manager £50,000

  • This was last published in April 2000

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