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TELEPOCALYPSE as Australian carriers shed jobs with horrible speed

Blame the re-invention of the NBN for giving telco-land pause in the worst possible way

The Tanami Desert en route to Willowara

While Australia's telco industry has become accustomed to the constant slim-down drive at incumbent Telstra and number-two Optus, an accumulation of bad news further down the food chain will narrow the options for the country's telco professionals.

Optus' latest job cuts announcement, that rather than the 200 originally mooted in Australia's mainstream press, it would be cutting 350 staff, predominantly in back-end corporate functions, added to what looks like a broader industry employment downturn.

M2 Communications, which rose to prominence on the back of an aggressive acquisition strategy that put it in control of Dodo, iPrimus, Commander Communications and VoIP business Engin, announced on Monday that it is to shed as many as 150 jobs.

Its acquisition strategy, the company said, has resulted in duplication, leading M2 to begin a consultation process to identify the roles that will get made redundant.

Meanwhile, iiNet has begun talking of job cuts again. The company had previously slimmed its executive ranks after acquiring Adelaide-based Internode, and in 2012 it had a round of cuts after acquiring Canberra-based TransACT. TPG recently hosed out a lot of former AAPT staff.

There are several dynamics at work driving carriers and ISPs to slim down, but National Broadband Network policy is casting a shadow over the industry, and has done for years.

The original NBN fibre-to-the-premises plan put a freeze on much of the once-aggressive infrastructure rollouts of the ISP sector: new ADSL deployments became reactive rather than speculative, since nobody wanted to deploy an asset that would be stranded when fibre arrived.

The industry stasis has become more acute since the change of government, with the NBN under review: the rate of fibre deployment has slowed (Tasmania's peak body, TasICT, has called the rollout in that state a shambles), and the proposed FTTN rollout has yet to get beyond trial stage.

The telco industry's doldrums are reflected in national productivity data: the sector is attributed with a 7.2 per cent decline in productivity (chiefly driven by an NBN-dominated capital spike of 6.3 per cent).

With all of this and a long-term future in which everyone outside of the mobile business will become an NBN reseller, it's hard to see an employment turnaround, and that's its own problem. At some point, telco is going to have to try to attract new, young blood.

Who would be foolish enough to try and enter an industry in which a career looks so uncertain? ®

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