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April 12, 2018

Working in Wireless: Planning Networks as a Radio Frequency Engineer .

Chelsea Sellers

The wireless industry ecosystem offers many—and quite diverse—career paths. In fact, according to Accenture, more than 4.7 million Americans are directly or indirectly employed by the wireless industry.  What are these jobs like? Let us tell you! This week, we are discussing what it’s like to be a radio frequency engineer.

What is a radio frequency engineer? In essence, someone who determines the amount and location of the infrastructure needed to support a wireless network and its user growth. They may work directly for a network, or for a wireless equipment company, or in related industries like consulting.

A radio frequency engineer looks at how many individuals need to use the network and how much traffic travels through it, and then determines how the network should respond, and how many cell sites need to be deployed to achieve the desired goal.

To get the scoop on working in this career, we sat down with CTIA’s Technology Team members, who have many years of experience planning networks.

Q: What are the requirements to become a wireless network planner?

A: “Network planners typically have a technical educational background in engineering, or physics.”

Q: Walk us through an average day for a radio frequency engineer.

A: “If you’re planning an existing network, you would start your day by assessing the traffic and metrics on your network. If you see some gaps, you will model the network using a radio planning tool to plan where you would place a new cell site or add another frequency block. Then you might go out to the field and physically survey the location of the potential cell site. You’d send the information you gather to your site acquisition team to begin zoning and acquiring the site.”

Q: What kind of skills—soft skills, hard skills, people skills—position someone to succeed in this career path?

A: “It’s important to be a problem solver, and a team player. Math and project management skills will go a long way as well.”

Q: What is the best piece of advice you ever received about your career?

A: “Keep learning. Technical publications like those from IEEE are really helpful resources.”

Q: Why do you think careers in wireless are important?

A: “A smartphone has 100x the power of the computers used to guide the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the moon. And today we just walk around with that power in our pocket. It is incredible the advances technology has made, and will continue to make, for the benefit of all of us. It’s exciting to be part of an industry that so many people rely on.”

Q: What is the most exciting thing network planners face as they start implementing 5G?

A: “Building a network with new small cell infrastructure, because of the increased density required and the new applications that are running over the network.”

Q: Where can people go to learn more about being a radio frequency engineer?

A: “There are a lot of good resources out there including Radio Club of America, Rfcafe.com, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society.”

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