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MSc Wireless and Optical Communications


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There is exceptionally strong industry demand for engineers with skills that span both wireless and optical communications with a clear shortage of supply.

Wireless and optical communications technologies underpin many of the services and devices that are a part of modern society from the ubiquitous smart phone that is wirelessly connected to the optical communications network through to photonic and wireless sensors that enable devices such as optical mice and RF identity cards. The communication networks that provide internet connectivity both to homes and mobile devices rely on optical, wireless and wired networks for the transport of data. Satellite systems for content distribution, mobile communication and global positioning also utilize wireless communication technologies.

The demand for increasing bandwidth and coverage to support new and enhanced services in both fixed and mobile locations requires engineers with a good understanding of both wireless and photonic communication technologies, ranging from device concepts to system design and project management. A unique feature of the course is the way it unites concepts across both wireless and optical communication to give students a better overall grasp of the technical challenges they will face in engineering the rapid development of the next generation communications infrastructure.

This programme is intended to contribute to meeting the demand for such skills by providing a full-time MSc course for graduates in electronic engineering and physics to train them for work in this industry and by offering modules which the industry can use for specialised training of existing employees. The course provides students with a strong understanding of the underlying physics, design principles and operation of wireless and optical systems and as such is an ideal stepping stone for those looking to go onto studying for a PhD.

We also offer a highly innovative, 2 year Masters degree with a year in industry open to students on all of our communications engineering MSc and MRes programmes. Students apply in their first term for exclusive year-long paid internships at Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley, California. If successful, postgraduate students will complete an extended industry-focused project whilst being mentored at Cisco.

A flexible version of this course for those employed in industry is also available

MSc Wireless and Optical Communications Programme Structure

The MSc in Wireless and Optical Communications provides training in the key technologies required for the physical layer of photonic, wireless and wired communications systems and other applications of this technology ranging from THz imaging to Radar systems. The programme encompasses the complete system design from device physics through to subsystems and finally to complete physical layer system implementations.

The programme structure, shown to the right, consists of five core modules, taught in the first term, that are designed to provide the necessary background in communications engineering ranging from network aspects through to physical layer implementation of both wireless and optical communication systems. These modules are all taught in one week blocks during the first term.

The optional modules, taught in the second term, are designed to build on the knowledge gained in the compulsory modules and provide in depth coverage and specialist knowledge as well as future technology directions and the latest research results in key areas in wireless and optical communication systems. You choose three modules which allows for specialisation in a particular aspect of either wireless or optical communications or choose the areas that are of most interest.

All of the course lecturers carry out leading research in the subjects they are teaching. Modules are taught in 4 day blocks from Monday to Thursday in single week (10am to 5pm), followed a few weeks later by a half day tutorial and then an examination the following week or the submission of an assignment.

The research project and dissertation forms a major component of the MSc and is carried out from January through till the end of August. The projects may be carried out either within a UCL research group or industry. In many cases the work carried out by the student leads to advances in the department’s research output and publications in addition to giving the student good experience of research work.

This work is also supported via a compulsory professional development module that develops the necessary project management, research and dissertation writing skills to successfully complete the research project.

Introduction to Telecommunications Networks (ITN)
This is an introductory module that provides a wide perspective of available communication networks and their properties. Many of the topics covered are fundamental to communication engineers regardless of whether they are working in a circuit switched or packet switched environment. It aims to give an overview across the OSI model from the application layer to the physical layer and shows how these layers interaction to provide services to end users.
Broadband Technologies and Components (BTC)
This module introduces the technologies and principles involved in the design and construction of the physical layer communication links (wireless, copper and optical) and the applications areas in which they are used. It covers the principles of digital transmission, the physical fundamentals of the generation, guided transmission, amplification and reception of light, the design consideration and techniques used in radio networks, and the role of optics and wireless in both access and core networks.
Mobile Communications Systems (MCS)
This module introduces mobile and wireless communications systems, beginning with a detailed view of the wireless propagation channel, the wireless environment and the modulation techniques used in wireless systems. The module focuses on the detailed implementation of two key mobile systems, namely; GSM and UMTS from the view points of system architecture, the physical layer and system implementation and takes a detailed look at the physical and logical channel implementation. The 2.5 and 3.5/3.75 Generations are also discussed with a description of HSCSD, GRS, EDGE, HSDPA and HSUPA. Issues of network planning, mobile services and business are also considered, with a focus on the 802.11 (WiFi), 802.15 (Bluetooth and Zigbee) and 802.16(WiMAX) standards.
Broadband Communications Laboratory (BCL)
This course introduces students the test and measurement equipment and techniques that are used to characterise optical and RF devices and systems. It provides students with hands on practical experience both with the devices themselves and the measurement equipment required to characterise their performance via a series of laboratory sessions. Student will gain familiarity with the operation of several types of advanced photonic and RF devices and learn good experimental technique in optical and RF measurement procedures.
Communications Systems Modelling (CSM)
With the increasing complexity of communications systems, simulation tools are vital for engineers to evaluate performance and to optimise designs. The purpose of this course is to introduce the techniques and tools used to model and simulate today’s communications systems and networks. Consideration is given to both the Physical Layer and the Network Layer and the module looks at the theory of modelling and practical applications using standard simulation packages. This module provides in-depth exposure to analytic and simulation techniques appropriate for the representation, analysis and performance evaluation of communications systems and networks.
Professional Development Module (PDM)
This module is designed to provide the necessary skills training in the following areas:
  • Completing a research project and project management
  • Writing scientific reports and dissertations
  • Communicating results
The PDM module is delivered as a series of interactive seminars throughout the course.

The optional modules cover devices, subsystems and systems aspects of wireless and optical communication systems. The optical and RF devices modules focus on the physical material properties, device fabrication and device properties. The subsystems modules concentrate on the architectural and functional aspects of the subsystems that are required to design build complete communication systems. The systems modules consider design and implementation of entire communication systems and applications.

Wireless Communications Principles - WCP
This module covers the principles associated with data transmission, with a special emphasis on aspects concerning the physical-layer and the medium-access control layer. The module emphasizes both the foundations as well as the applications of the various algorithms, techniques and protocols.
Internet of Things - IOT
This course is designed to provide an introduction to the Internet of Things (IoT) for postgraduate students who already have a background in electronic engineering or a related subject, an understanding of basic networking and some software (coding) experience. The course is designed to give the students a solid grounding of the key technologies involved and how they are integrated to form complete IoT systems. We also aim to give students an understanding of how the internet of things fits within the wider context of the ICT industry. The course has a significant practical content in that 50% of the time will be spent on practical lab exercises, involving IoT system design and software development. The course is broadly divided into two parts, namely development in the cloud and development at the edge. It is assumed that students will already have a basic familiarity with coding (in any language). For the former part (development in the cloud), the course makes use of the IBM Bluemix cloud data analytics platform and Node-RED visual tool for wiring together hardware devices. These tools use a graphical user interface and training will be provided. The underlying programming languages for these tools are JavaScript and HTML (though prior knowledge of these languages is not required). For the latter part (development at the edge), familiarity with functional C/C++ programming would be useful since these languages are used to configure the sensors and edge computing platforms. An example of a programming environment for the latter part (the edge) is Energia by Texas Instruments.
Advanced Photonic Devices (APD)
This devices module provides an in depth understanding at the device level of the optical sources, modulators, detectors and passive optical devices used in communications and other applications such as imaging and solar energy conversion. It covers the fundamental semiconductor and light matter interaction theory, necessary to understand the operation of these devices, device fabrication and device characteristics. Example applications are given to highlight the typical performance characteristics of these devices.
Photonic Sub-systems (PSS)
This optical subsystems module covers the design and operating principles of key photonic sub-systems that are used in applications ranging from communications to sensing including: Optical transceivers for coherent and radio over fibre systems, optical amplifier modules, integrated optics platforms and THz Photonics technologies.
Optical Transmission and Networks (OTN)
This optical systems module provides an advanced understanding of the physical layer of optical transmission systems and networks, covering all types of photonic networks from access and metro to wide area networks, and includes next generation optical modulation formats and transceivers, optical signal transmission impairments and mitigation, optical multiplexing methods, e.g. wavelength division multiplexing, and optical and electronic network switching technologies.
RF Circuits and Devices (RFC)
This devices module gives the student an understanding of RF Devices circuits and system architectures that are used in both wireless and optical communication systems. It provides an introduction to RF device theory, design and applications and covers device choices for circuits (MESFET, HEMT, HBT, BiCMOS, BJT and LDMOS) as well as considering the RF circuit design techniques in MIC and MMIC form. A number of application areas are covered including RF transmitters and receivers, Microwave filters, Amplifier design, Active non-reciprocal components, Mixers, Modulators, and Oscillators. In addition it looks at integration technology and the design of Monolithic RF circuits.
Antennas and Propagation (AP)
This wireless subsystems module gives an in depth understanding of the theory and application of antennas, and RF propagation. Starting from basic antenna definitions of gain, directivity, efficiency, effective area and length, directional patterns and polarisation, it proceeds to consider a variety of types of radiating element. It also considers factors affecting RF communication, studying propagation principles of atmospheric effects, fading types and statistics, propagation models in mobile communications. To conclude the course considers practical antenna applications including arrays and electronic beam control and digital beamforming (with a discussion of smart antenna systems in mobile application).
Radar Systems (RS)
This wireless systems module is aimed at graduate-level engineers with a background in electronic engineering or physics. The emphasis is on physical principles, and on modern radar systems and signal processing techniques, for both civilian and defence applications.

The course is delivered by means of formal lectures, laboratories and project work. The lecture component is divided into basic courses taking place in term one, to provide the students with the required background in communication technologies, and advanced options taking place in term two, in which the students are taught more specialised subjects.

All of the course lecturers carry out leading research in the subjects they are teaching. Modules are taught in 4 day blocks from Monday to Thursday in single week (10am to 5pm). A few week later a tutorial is held with an examination a few weeks or the submission of an assignment.

The teaching format of our master programmes is unique in the UK and helps capable students to develop strong expertise in the technologies and theories within a very short time

The research project commences in term two and the completed results are reported in the students’ dissertations, to be submitted in September. The research work carried out by the students generally takes place within one of the research groups in the EE department, and in many cases the work carried out by the student leads to advances in the department’s research output in addition to giving the student good experience of research work.