Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published its June 2011 “Employment Situation Summary,” which is their latest jobs numbers for a variety of industries. Some of those numbers were about the telecom industry, which includes “wireless telecom carriers.”
According to the preliminary BLS figures for May 2011, both the total telecom and the wireless telecom job figures were down from last year, wireless by about 2,000 jobs. But the reality is that those jobs may not have entirely gone away. Wireline employees, like wireline customers, may have simply changed their technologies. They may have changed their employers too.
The telecom industry is more than a simple binary choice of wireline or wireless. There are a whole host of companies that make up the wireless (and wireline) ecosystem: license holders; virtual network operators (resellers); tower construction and maintenance companies; network management companies; handset, accessory, chip and component, network equipment manufacturers and suppliers; antenna companies; software and application developers; content providers; application store operators; aggregators; the list goes on.
Sometimes jobs simply shift within companies, from one division to another (e.g. from wireline to wireless). Sometimes jobs, and the employees who fill them, shift between companies – from a carrier to a network manager or from a carrier to a tower company. This has happened in the wireless industry more than once over the past decade.
Unfortunately, the BLS data – while interesting – is incomplete. That’s not to say anything against the BLS for the work they do – surveying thousands of locations and mapping jobs against a complex classification system. It’s just that the BLS data doesn't describe the entire ecosystem, nor the entire wireless carrier workforce.
The BLS data reports jobs by a classification system that doesn't entirely match-up to the world we live in. Jobs are reported by location and by the classification of that location. Sometimes, that means a job doesn't show up in the industry you’d ordinarily expect. Some new jobs won’t show up at first (because new firms aren't tracked), and some jobs won’t show up at all, because the self-employed (like some software developers) aren't tracked at all. The result is that the BLS survey doesn't capture the whole picture.
Since January 1985, CTIA’s semi-annual survey has tracked the number of direct carrier employees. The CTIA survey goes directly to the headquarters of the service providers, and asks that they report “the number of direct sales employees, the number of other employees, and the total number of employees. Total employees should include all personnel involved in retail and wholesale operations within your company (this figure should not include agents or their employees). Total employees should also include headquarters personnel and personnel in subsidiaries of the parent company supporting your wireless operations.” Not everybody answers, but companies serving more than 95 percent of wireless users participate.
While the CTIA survey has indeed shown changes in employment over time, it usually finds tens of thousands more wireless employees than the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the CTIA survey found direct wireless carrier employment in the US totaled more than 250,000 at the end of 2010. The BLS counted only 172,000 at year-end 2010.
Why the difference? Different approaches and different definitions. In each case, the surveys captured part of a greater ecosystem – and the CTIA survey captured a greater part of the wireless carrier share of that ecosystem than the BLS.
But because it only surveys the service providers, the CTIA survey still only captures part of the picture, though a sizable one. For example, the CTIA survey doesn't capture jobs at tower construction and maintenance companies. The survey also doesn't capture the employees of independent and big box retailers who sell wireless products and services. It doesn't capture jobs that have moved from carriers to third-party network managers, or the jobs that have been created at third-party software developers, or other jobs that exist at device, accessory, component and network equipment manufacturers.
Over time, some wireless carrier jobs have shifted between companies – and so have moved out of the CTIA survey. The changes that the BLS found between 2010 and 2011 can be accounted for by just these kinds of shifts too, as jobs move from one industry category to another and from one location to another.
At the end of the day, in the 30 years that I have been involved in the wireless industry, there has been one consistent theme: change. Whether you’re a veteran of the industry or a casual observer, this theme of constant change hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. Everything from apps to devices to the networks, the U.S. wireless industry continues to innovate and create some amazing products and services. And we’re an important player to our country’s economic recovery, whether we’re talking about the number of people we employ or the financial impact to the GDP.
In fact, estimates have stated that wireless broadband investment will create as many as 205,000 jobs by 2015 and that for every $1 invested in wireless broadband, it will create an additional $7-10 for GDP.
There’s no question the value the U.S. wireless industry currently provides and will continue to offer America and Americans.