Electrical and Computer Engineering

Communications and Signal Processing

General Description

Telecommunications is a rapidly growing field. In just one century telecommunications has progressed from telegraph systems capable of sending only a few letters per second over wires to radio and optical communications systems capable of sending voice, pictures, and digital data anywhere in the world at rates up to one billion bits per second. Advances in telecommunications make possible modern devices such as the telephone, radio, television, computer modems, FAX machines, and radionavigation systems. Other devices, such as compact discs (CDs), computer disks, and magnetic tapes are also communication systems since they transfer a message through time (via an optical or magnetic medium) rather than through space.

The electrical voltages and currents that carry useful information are known as signals. Extraction of information from a signal, modification of a signal from one form to another, separation of a signal from noise, etc., are called signal processing. Passive filters, active filters, and digital filters are three classes of filters used in telecommunications, instrumentation, control, and other applications. Other examples of signal processing circuits are spectrum analyzers, echo cancelers, speech synthesizers and recognizers, image processers, and low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass filters. Design and application of the signal processing circuits are taught in the elective courses in this area.

Relation to Other Areas

Telecommunications is related to most of the areas of electrical engineering. Signals and systems provide the basic signal processing theory that is necessary for the study of all communications systems. The physical phenomena area covers the operation of devices essential for building a communication system such as transistors, laser diodes, and traveling wave tubes. This area also covers antenna systems and wave propagation. The controls area provides theory necessary for the design and analysis of synchronization systems, which are used in most communication systems. Analog electronics covers the implementation of circuits such as amplifiers,oscillators, filters, and mixers. Digital electronics are also used in many modern communication systems.

Electronic circuits are essential components in practically all electrical systems such as controllers, telecommunication systems, power circuits, digital systems, computers, and instrumentation systems. Circuit designers conceive and design these building blocks while engineers in other areas develop systems using these building blocks.

Job Opportunities

The telecommunications field is rapidly expanding. The field is diverse; some of the current areas of work are: satellite-based worldwide cellular telephone systems, satellite-based direct home broadcasting of audio and video, restructuring of the telephone network, use of fiber-optic cables, wired and wireless computer networks and inexpensive worldwide navigation systems. Other applications of telecommunications are remote utility (electric power, gas and water) meter reading systems, "smart house" systems and security systems. Additionally, there is now a strong political interest in building a new communications infrastructure called the "information superhighway" that will have a major impact on telecommunications systems and the way society uses telecommunications in the next century.

Electrical engineers with expertise in the design of signal processing circuits will find employment in such modern applications as speech processing, image processing, wireless telephone, high definition television, and radar.


The following courses are in the communications and signal processing area.

  • ECE 3010 Signals and Systems
  • ECE 3020 Discrete-Time Signals and Systems
  • ECE 3710 Introduction to Telecommunications
  • ECE 3760 Telecommunications Laboratory
  • ECE 4020 Digital Signal Processing
  • ECE 4710 Principles of Telecommunications
  • ECE 4720 Telecommunication System Design