Who were the biggest wireless job cutters in 2015?

Phil Goldstein

Although the economy has rebounded somewhat since the depths of the Great Recession and companies in the wireless industry are no longer shedding jobs on a seemingly weekly basis as firms were in late 2008 and early 2009, not everything is rosy.  

In fact, reorganizations, restructurings, shifts in strategy, pressure from investors and a slowing economy in China are all contributing factors to some of the large-scale layoffs that have hit the industry so far this year -- and in job cuts that are in the offing (like those coming from Sprint (NYSE: S), which plans to slash at least $2 billion in costs in the next six months).

The smartphone industry, which is showing signs of slowing down in some markets, has been particularly hard hit. Weak demand and a need to streamline operations and cut costs led HTC and Lenovo to announce large layoffs this summer. Meanwhile, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has largely gutted the workforce it acquired from Nokia amid a strategy shift away from smartphones.

Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) slashed its workforce in Sweden as part of a shift to a more software-centric business model. And Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), pressured by Chinese rivals and slower smartphone growth as well as an activist investor, also axed up to 15 percent of its workforce.

We've been tracking the large-scale job cutters in the industry since 2012 (here are our features on this topic from 2014, 2013 and 2012). There are some trends that continue through to this year. Handset makers and network infrastructure providers seem especially prone to job cuts, as they face pressure from investors to increase margins and profitability by cutting costs. Smartphone makers have seen their margins erode in recent years in large part due to lower-cost competitors undercutting them on price, and gear vendors have also seen price competition and a shift to software hit their profits.

When companies make job cuts they often frame it as a way to control costs or reorient the business. They use words like "streamline," "efficiency," "savings" and other euphemisms. I've been covering the industry long enough to know that business, like politics, ain't beanbag. But there are real people whose livelihoods and families are often at stake when they lose their jobs.

Some of them will get different jobs in the industry, but many untold others won't. When we report on these layoffs and strategy shifts, we shouldn't lose sight of the human element and should push the companies cutting the jobs to do everything they can to soften the blow and make sure those who are laid off can find jobs elsewhere in the wireless and technology industries.   

With all of that in mind, FierceWireless has compiled a list of the five largest job cutting programs in wireless in 2015 thus far. Here is a look at those cuts (and please let us know what you think in the comments, including if we overlooked a layoff).--Phil

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