The word among the Silicon Valley venture capital community is that this is the year of wireless technology. So says Michael Rolnick, partner of ComVentures, a Palo Alto, CA, venture capital firm specializing in communications and the Internet.

“The wireless market in Asia and Europe is more advanced than the United States, yet penetration rates in the United States have been increasing at a faster rate,” he said.

Barbara Gomolski, research director of the Gartner Institute , a research and certification company in Eden Prairie, MN, agrees.

“The wireless Internet is finally poised to become something tangible,” she said. “Despite the fact that the North American penetration rate is still only about 30 percent, the momentum driving wireless forward is undeniable. Every day, as many as 40,000 new subscribers sign up for wireless service.

“It’s all about delivering services in a cost-effective manner,” Rolnick said. “All the players in this exploding industry are looking for talent.”

For CIOs, CTOs, and other IT professionals, wireless may present new opportunities for challenging work in an emerging field.

And since the industry is only in its infancy, there is no better time to jump in, said Norman Rankis, CTO at Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ. Now that the costs of wireless technology have dropped dramatically and the technology is stable, Rankis says there are two strong areas.

The first is working with the value-added resellers (VARS) who install the wireless networks. The second is with companies “that have outgrown their current cabling structure.” In this instance, “wireless is the efficient and economical way to go,” Rankis explains.

Finding your niche in the wireless job market
Where are the jobs? From Rankis’ perspective, they’re in consulting companies installing turnkey networks. “These companies are looking for networking and [telecommunications] people with at least five years of field experience and at least one year of wireless experience,” he says.

Gomolski and Rolnick say the best jobs are with companies creating the infrastructure technology.

One such company is San Diego, CA-based Littlefeet, Inc., which manufactures software that prevents breakup or disruption of a wireless signal.

Launched last year, the 60-person company is heavily dependent upon engineering know-how, according to technical recruiter Rhonda Tuohy. The company employs RF (radio frequency) hardware engineers, systems engineers, and product managers.

“We are looking for people with wireless GSM [Global Standard Communications] backgrounds,” she says. GSM is touted as the international roaming standard. Code division multiple access (CDMA) is the hot wireless standard used in many parts of the United States and, more recently, China and Latin America.

A shallow labor pool
If you think the technology labor pool is lean, the wireless industry is truly desperate for experienced wireless candidates.

But once again, it’s a classic catch-22: If everyone demands experience, how do you break in? Well, a little ingenuity wouldn’t hurt.

If you’re a student, Tuohy advises doing an internship with a company involved in some part of the wireless industry. Besides the hundreds of small start-ups throughout the country, you can check out established wireless manufacturers such as Ericsson, NeoPoint, Nextel, and Nokia, for example. Then you can also consider the massive operators like Sprint, Motorola, Pacific Bell, Bell Atlantic, and AT&T.

It’s easier to break in if you’re already working for a telecommunications carrier or a networking/telecommunications company. But, it’s not impossible to break in without experience if you’re willing to do some homework.

Tuohy advises boning up on wireless technology and mastering the acronyms like WAP (wireless application protocol) and MTSO (mobile telephone switching office). Target a segment of the wireless industry and study the players.

If you’re entrepreneurial, find a company you’d like to work for, study its products, philosophy, and culture, and make them an offer they can’t refuse. Offer to start at the bottom. If you’re a fast learner, you’ll move up fast. And, though I hate the term, the wireless industry will practically kill for aggressive “self-starters.”

“The candidates who stand to go the furthest are the ones who can assess the technology, uncover the hot areas, and waste no time mastering them,” adds Tuohy. “A lot of money can be made if you’re willing to work hard.”

If you’ve got a sense of adventure, now is the time to break into the wireless industry. The fact that career information in this market is hard to come by makes the game all the more intriguing. Here’s where creative sleuthing can pay off handsomely.
Have you found success working for the wireless industry? Have you had difficulty finding workers to staff your wireless-oriented business? Post a comment below or tell us your story in an e-mail.