To Help Create Jobs, Switch to 4G?

Susan Hall
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Red-Hot Tech Jobs in 2012

Each month, it seems, brings more job cuts in the telecommunications sector as carriers switch their business from landlines to wireless. The sector overall lost about 89,000 jobs last year, according to Forrester Research numbers cited on Network World.


But The Wall Street Journal reported that in May, employment in the wireless sector hit a 12-year low. That article cites increased efficiency and automation as major factors.


Now an interesting report from Washington think tank NDN looks at the effects on state-by-state employment in the advancement of wireless technology. Among its findings:

  • Nearly 1.6 million jobs were created during the switch from 2G to 3G between April 2007 and June 2011, a time when the country overall lost nearly 5.3 million positions.
  • For every 10 percent of subscribers who switch to 4G, the nation will increase jobs by 0.07 percentage points in the following quarter. As notes, though that doesn't sound like much, it all adds up.
  • By September, the transition is expected to have created 231,690 U.S. jobs.


The article quotes one of the study's authors, Robert Shapiro, former undersecretary of commerce during the Clinton administration, saying:

Frankly, I didn't expect the numbers to be as good as they were. We all knew there was job destruction associated with advancements in Internet technologies, but this proves that the job creation is significantly greater.

No wonder, then, that worker unions so heartily backed AT&T's merger plans for T-Mobile, citing its job-creation potential, though the FCC found its claims flawed.


As my colleague Carl Weinschenk points out, 4G has become so widely available, the focus has turned to performance - and it's happened at amazing speed.


The CNNMoney article cites one potential flaw in the NDN logic is that the switch from 2G to 3G brought far greater capability and performance, while the transition to 4G-LTE is bringing more incremental improvements. But the article quotes Shapiro saying that doesn't really matter:

New generations of wireless networks create new use cases and businesses. We don't have a lot of data yet for 4G, but we have confidence that the effects we saw before will at least be duplicated, if not enhanced.

As the NDN study notes, the switch to 3G promoted the development of new products, services and industries - a whole ecosystem of related job creation. The Wireless Communications Association International made that point about response to the WSJ article about wireless job cuts at carriers. Similarly, Forbes' Erica Morphy foresees six new job titles coming from 4G, including one called "remote magician," someone who designs remote controls for various components.

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