Top 5 use cases for 5G augmented and virtual reality What are the features and benefits of 5G technology?

What 5G skills are most in demand?

In the evolving 5G job market, service providers, systems integrators and enterprises are looking for applicants who have experience and aspirations in five broad areas.

The first phase of the 5G revolution has pretty much ended. 5G radio access networks are everywhere, and well over half of cellphones are 5G-enabled, with the percentage rising rapidly as consumers replace old phones.

The second phase of the 5G revolution, now underway, focuses on the shift to 5G standalone, which replaces the 4G core. In this phase, service providers are expected to develop and deploy 5G applications and services to support 5G use cases, including network slicing for virtual private 5G networks, ultradense IoT deployments and ultralow-latency responsiveness for real-time services.

All this change creates an evolving 5G job market. Service providers, systems integrators and enterprises are expanding their search for network architects, engineers, developers and program managers to advance their 5G ambitions. Some 5G jobs may focus on the following areas:

  • Service development and management for network operators.
  • Infrastructure design and maintenance for service providers or enterprises.
  • Application development for both provider- and customer-facing software.
  • Design and management of enterprise services.

Here are the top five things employers are looking for in terms of 5G skill sets for new hires.

1. 5G technology skills and aspirations

The 5G technology stack is different from 4G or earlier stacks in several crucial ways. Network operators, consulting and integration companies, and enterprises interested in building their own networks are looking for professionals with knowledge or experience in the following areas:

  • 5G radio access network (RAN) and Open RAN.
  • 5G-XHaul, the interconnection networks tying 5G edges to 5G cores.
  • 5G core platforms.
  • Applications and services, like network slicing, layered on the core.

Many job postings seek new hires with multiple years of experience -- an unrealistically large demand given the rarity of the experience in the labor supply.

Applicants with any level of familiarity -- who are also adept at learning quickly -- should consider applying for positions where in-depth 5G technical expertise is the only thing they are lacking. They should clearly communicate the experience they have and explicitly discuss the ramp-up time needed for skills development should they be hired.

2. Network architecture, engineering and integration

Close behind the desire for 5G-specific expertise, employers are looking for broader experience in systems architecture and engineering. Mirroring 5G's modern architectural features, the desired skills include cloud-native design, deployment of distributed systems using both core and edge computing, containerization, virtualization and high availability based on microservices. Skills that support these areas include experience with cloud management platforms, container orchestration platforms and infrastructure-as-code deployment systems.

Employers also want applicants with experience in and knowledge of network architecture, design and engineering, especially with software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization and other mobile networks, such as 4G LTE.

Systems integration, especially integration among cloud network services, is increasingly in demand as operators and enterprises start to integrate 5G products with other core platforms and tie together 5G options from multiple providers.

3. Network security and network applications

Sometimes cloaked in generic "best practices" language, security awareness, experience and expertise are in demand. If the job is for 5G architecture, secure architectural principles are required. If the job is for 5G deployment, experience with secure deployment methodologies is needed. And, if the job is 5G application development, experience in a secure software development lifecycle environment is prioritized.

It is more important and more difficult than ever to protect the critical components of 5G network infrastructure from attack thanks to several factors, including the following:

  • The newness and complexity of the 5G technology stack.
  • The many moving parts of 5G, both figuratively and literally, because of virtualization and containerization.
  • Network hosted on standard platforms instead of specialized hardware with custom, platform-specific OSes.

4. Adaptive leadership and excellent communications

Many 5G positions call for applicants who can quickly adapt to changes in a complex business and technological environment, such as shifting strategies, evolving requirements and changing timelines. Others call for applicants ready to lead teams by keeping them focused on short-term goals and longer-term strategic objectives, building consensus driven by data and being responsive to new data. All 5G positions seem to call for excellent communications skills, whether clearly communicating to team members what they should be doing and why or communicating to leadership where a project stands and why.

5. Product development lifecycle and project management

Because the 5G market is so new, quickly growing and changing, many companies are looking for applicants with experience bringing software or hardware products or operator services from concept to deliverables. Many employers want some project management experience or even project management professional certification. Others want experienced developers familiar with Agile development methodologies, like DevOps, and well versed in the tools associated with Agile development.

And everything else

Requirements vary widely among jobs, but in addition to the specific qualities and skills described above, a couple of other themes recur widely. A few other high-level 5G skills include the following:

  • Overall adaptability, as exemplified by the needs for adaptive leadership qualities.
  • An understanding of enterprise network services generally, especially SDN and software-defined WAN.
  • Familiarity with current and emerging 5G use cases, such as dense or real-time responsive IoT networking.

Experience in relevant verticals is always a plus as well. If a company's main clients are manufacturers, experience with networking in manufacturing companies is highly desired.

John Burke is CTO and principal research analyst with Nemertes Research. With nearly two decades of technology experience, he has worked at all levels of IT. His focus areas include AI, cloud, networking, infrastructure, automation and cybersecurity.

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