Telecommunications engineering

Telecommunications engineering

Telecommunications engineering, or telecom engineering, is a major field within electronic engineering. The work ranges from basic circuit design to strategic mass developments. A telecommunication engineer is responsible for designing and overseeing the installation of telecommunications equipment and facilities, such as complex electronic switching systems, copper telephone facilities, and fiber optics. Telecom engineering also overlaps heavily with broadcast engineering.

Telecommunication is a diverse field of engineering including electronics, civil, structural, and electrical engineering, as well as being a political and social ambassador, a little bit of accounting and a lot of project management. Ultimately, telecom engineers are responsible for providing the method for customers to have telephone and high-speed data services.

Telecom engineers use a variety of equipment and transport media available from a multitude of manufacturers to design the telecom network infrastructure. The most common media, often referred to as plant in the telecom industry, used by telecommunications companies today are copper, coaxial cable, fiber, and radio.

Telecom engineers are often expected, as most engineers are, to provide the best solution possible for the lowest cost to the company. This often leads to creative solutions to problems that often would have been designed differently without the budget constraints dictated by modern society. In the earlier days of the telecom industry massive amounts of cable were placed that were never used or have been replaced by modern technology such as fiber optic cable and digital multiplexing techniques.

Telecom engineers are also responsible for keeping the records of the companies' equipment and facilities and assigning appropriate accounting codes for purposes of taxes and maintenance. As telecom engineers responsible for budgeting and overseeing projects and keeping records of equipment, facilities and plant the telecom engineer is not only an engineer but an accounting assistant or bookkeeper (if not an accountant) and a project manager as well.


Telecom equipment engineer

A telecom equipment engineer is an electronics engineer that designs equipment such as routers, switches, multiplexers, and other specialized computer/electronics equipment designed to be used in the telecommunication network infrastructure.

Central-office engineer

A central-office engineer is responsible for designing and overseeing the implementation of telecommunications equipment in a central office (CO for short), also referred to as a wire center or telephone exchange. A CO engineer is responsible for integrating new technology into the existing network, assigning the equipments location in the wire center and providing power, clocking (for digital equipment) and alarm monitoring facilities for the new equipment. The CO engineer is also responsible for providing more power, clocking, and alarm monitoring facilities if there isn't currently enough available to support the new equipment being installed. Finally, the CO Engineer is responsible for designing how the massive amounts of cable will be distributed to various equipment and wiring frames throughout the wire center and overseeing the installation and turn up of all new equipment.

As structural engineers, CO engineers are responsible for the structural design and placement of racking and bays for the equipment to be installed in as well as for the plant to be placed on.

As electrical engineers, CO engineers are responsible for the resistance, capacitance, and inductance (RCL) design of all new plant to ensure telephone service is clear and crisp and data service is clean as well as reliable. Attenuation and loop loss calculations are required to determine cable length and size required to provide the service called for. In addition, power requirements have to be calculated and provided for to power any electronic equipment being placed in the wire center.

Overall, CO engineers have seen new challenges emerging in the CO environment. With the advent of Data Centers, Internet Protocol (IP) facilities, cellular radio sites, and other emerging-technology equipment environments within telecommunication networks, it is important that a consistent set of established practices or requirements be implemented.

Installation suppliers or their sub-contractors are expected to provide requirements with their products, features, or services. These services might be associated with the installation of new or expanded equipment, as well as the removal of existing equipment.

Several other factors must be considered such as:

  • Regulations and safety in installation
  • Removal of hazardous material
  • Commonly used tools to perform installation and removal of equipment

Telcordia GR-1275, Central Office/Network Environment Equipment Installation/Removal provides over 1,000 requirements for the CO detail engineer. Developed with Service Provider input, GR-1275 covers new information on federal asbestos regulations, safety in the use of tools, wire-wrap uniformity, grounding conductor placement, protection of both metallic and optical conductors, and cabling under raised floors.

GR-1502, Central Office/Network Environment Detail Engineering Generic Requirements, is a companion document to GR-1275 and provides proposed engineering generic requirements that Detail Engineering Service Providers (DESPs) are expected to provide with their services. Adherence to these generic requirements helps ensure that newly installed equipment operates in accordance with design parameters in owned or leased telecommunications equipment buildings of the Telecommunications Carrier (TC), and to ensure that equipment is installed safely and efficiently. These proposed engineering and documentation generic requirements are the criteria to which DESPs may be compared for job acceptance purposes.

The proposed generic engineering requirements contained in this document are intended to be applicable to all types of engineered telecommunications equipment, i.e., switching, transmission, and common systems; and include frame, circuit-protection devices, and power, etc. However, this document is not all-inclusive; additional engineering guidance may be required to engineer a specific piece of equipment, or to meet additional regional practices or requirements.

Outside-plant engineer

Outside plant (OSP) engineers also often are called field engineers as they often spend much time in the field taking notes about the civil environment, aerial, above ground, and below ground. OSP engineers are responsible for taking plant (copper, fiber, etc.) from a wire center to a distribution point or destination point directly. If a distribution point design is used then a cross connect box is placed in a strategic location to feed a determined distribution area.

The cross-connect box, also known as a service area interface, is then installed to allow connections to be made more easily from the wire center to the destination point and ties up fewer facilities by not having dedication facilities from the wire center to every destination point. The plant is then taken directly to its destination point or to another small closure called a terminal where access can also be gained to the plant if necessary. These access points are preferred as they allow faster repair times for customers and save telephone operating companies large amounts of money.

The plant facilities can be delivered via underground facilities, either direct buried or through conduit or in some cases laid under water, via aerial facilities such as telephone or power poles, or via microwave radio signals for long distances where either of the other two methods is too costly.

As structural engineers, OSP engineers are responsible for the structural design and placement of cellular towers and telephone poles as well as calculating pole capabilities of existing telephone or power poles onto which new plant is being added. Structural calculations are required when boring under heavy traffic areas such as highways or when attaching to other structures such as bridges. Shoring also has to be taken into consideration for larger trenches or pits. Conduit structures often include encasements of slurry that needs to be designed to support the structure and withstand the environment around it (soil type, high traffic areas, etc.).

As electrical engineers, OSP engineers are responsible for the resistance, capacitance, and inductance (RCL) design of all new plant to ensure telephone service is clear and crisp and data service is clean as well as reliable. Attenuation and loop loss calculations are required to determine cable length and size required to provide the service called for. In addition power requirements have to be calculated and provided to power any electronic equipment being placed in the field. Ground potential has to be taken into consideration when placing equipment, facilities, and plant in the field to account for lightning strikes, high voltage intercept from improperly grounded or broken power company facilities, and from various sources of electromagnetic interference.

As civil engineers, OSP engineers are responsible for drafting plans, either by hand or using Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) software, for how telecom plant facilities will be placed. Often when working with municipalities trenching or boring permits are required and drawings must be made for these. Often these drawings include about 70% or so of the detailed information required to pave a road or add a turn lane to an existing street. Structural calculations are required when boring under heavy traffic areas such as highways or when attaching to other structures such as bridges. As civil engineers, telecom engineers provide the modern communications backbone for all technological communications distributed throughout civilizations today.

Unique to telecom engineering is the use of air core cable which requires an extensive network of air handling equipment such as compressors, manifolds, regulators and hundreds of miles of air pipe per system that connects to pressurized splice cases all designed to pressurize this special form of copper cable to keep moisture out and provide a clean signal to the customer.

As political and social ambassador, the OSP Engineer is the telephone operating companies' face and voice to the local authorities and other utilities. OSP engineers often meet with municipalities, construction companies and other utility companies to address their concerns and educate them about how the telephone utility works and operates. Additionally, the OSP engineer has to secure real estate to place outside facilities on, such as an easement to place a cross-connect box on.

Further reading

  • Dahlman, Erik; Parkvall, Stefan; Beming, Per; Bovik, Alan C.; Fette, Bruce A.; Jack, Keith; Skold, Johan; Dowla, Farid et al. (2009). Communications engineering desk reference. Academic Press. pp. 544. ISBN 978-0-12-374648-1. 

See also

External Resources Telephone Engineer Resources

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