First Telecommunications Engineering programs in the United States, The

first Telecommunications Engineering programs in the United States, The

Burnham, Gerald O


In the summer of 1998, the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and computer Science (the Jonsson School) at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) obtained approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer BS and MS degrees in Telecommunications Engineering (TE). These are the first TE degree programs in the United States and the BS program received ABET accreditation for classes to begin in the fall of 1999.

This paper discusses the need for such a program at UTD from the perspective of industry as well as the academic justification for a separate degree. The implementation of the program as a combination of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is addressed as well as the tradeoffs necessary in combining these curricula. Many of the issues are similar to the ones addressed in a Computer Engineering program. However, the resulting tradeoffs are different in the case of a Telecommunications Engineering program.


In the summer of 1998, the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at The University of Texas at Dallas obtained approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board to offer new BS and MS degrees in Telecommunications Engineering. Students entered the degree program in the fall of 1998. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, ABET, visited the jonsson School in the fall of 1999 to review all of our programs, including an initial visit for the B STE degree. In the summer of 2000, this program became the first ABET accredited TE degree in the United States. This paper addresses the need for such a degree, the problems of establishing an educationally sound curriculum that meets the needs of the marketplace, and the ABET criteria.


The Jonsson School is located in the heart of the Telecom Corridor(R) in Richardson, Texas, which is one of the most significant and unique high tech business concentrations in the United States. The Telecom Corridor1,2. located approximately twenty miles north of downtown Dallas, contains 600 high tech companies and 80,000 daytime employees. The major companies include Alcatel, MCI/Worldcom, Nortel Networks, Texas Instruments, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Inet, SBC, Nokia and Lucent.

In 1987, the first students arrived at the Jonsson School, and by the summer of 1998, the School had reached an enrollment of 2000 students, offering BS, MS, Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Science (CS). In EE and CS, one of the optional undergraduate degree tracks concentrates on telecommunications. The EE telecommunications concentration produces engineers who are well prepared to enter into equipment design with local telecom equipment suppliers. The CS telecommunications concentration produces graduates who are wellschooled in the software side of the telecom industry, including the “dot com” companies. However, neither of these sets of graduates were well-schooled in the other’s discipline, which is what is needed in the design of system level products by the equipment industry, by ISP’s, by traditional carriers and other service providers. It has not been unusual for Jonsson School graduates to obtain dual BSEE and BSCS degrees to fill this need for systemlevel knowledge; however, this has required an undergraduate program of approximately 166 hours, which limited the acceptance of this option by students and their parents. The BS degree in Telecommunications Engineering was invented to fill the industry need for systems-level telecommunications personnel within a 130-hour or less curriculum, while satisfying ABET requirements.

In the spring of 1998, this concept was presented to the Industrial Advisory Council (IAC) of the Jonsson School. The IAC endorsed the idea and suggested that an industry committee be set up to work with the TE faculty curriculum committee to develop a curriculum endorsed by industry and the faculty. A faculty committee was formed within the School consisting of the Dean as Chair, three members from EE and three members from CS. The concept was to develop a new degree program using the existing EE and CS faculty as well as existing courses, to the extent possible. The faculty committee and the industry committee worked throughout the spring and summer of 1998 to develop a curriculum that was endorsed by all. The resulting curriculum is presented in the next section.


The principal objective of an engineering program is to provide a strong educational foundation for the broad practice of engineering. For the engineering programs at UTD this means to be responsive to the educational and research needs of the nation as exemplified by the technologically sophisticated and managerially intensive economy of the Dallas Metroplex. Being aware of the rapid growth and changes in the field, we seek to provide a baccalaureate education, including a comprehensive treatment of contemporaneously important as well as basic topics. The TE program provides an interdisciplinary approach to educating engineers with the requisite knowledge to meet the needs of the telecommunications industry.

In assembling a curriculum for Telecommunication Engineering, the Jonsson School had four objectives:

a) to satisfy ABET criteria

b) to require program less than 130 hours

c) to include sufficient CS and EE course content to prepare the graduate for industry roles in telecommunications engineering d) to prepare graduates to do graduate level work in TE, EE, or CS

The resulting BSTE curriculum summarized in Table 1 contains courses to satisfy the core curriculum requirements for all Texas undergraduate programs. In addition, it contains math and science courses to satisfy the ABET criteria and to prepare the student for upper-level engineering and computer science courses. This paper will not focus on these broader aspects of the BSTE Curriculum, as they are normal elements of any engineering program. Rather, the focus will be on the sequence of engineering and computer science courses used to construct the actual telecom program. This sequence is shown in Figure 1. The courses with CS prefixes were existing CS courses, the courses with EE prefixes were existing EE courses, and the TE prefix indicates a new course for this program.

Figure 1 illustrates many of the issues that must be addressed in structuring a curriculum for Telecommunications Engineering. These issues are summarized below:

a) Understanding of the Physical Layer begins with a course in basic Communications Theory (EE4350), but most EE programs require a three-semester sequence of circuits/network courses and maybe a semester of Electromagnetics as prerequisites to this course. For this program, all of the prerequisites to the Communications Theory Course are condensed into TE3301 and TE3302.

b) Probability and Statistics Tools are necessary for understanding communications theory, and performance of operating systems and networks. However, the communications theory sequence needs Gaussian process theory and the communication networks sequence requirements queuing theory. A new course, TE3341, was developed to cover both aspects of probability theory.

c) The issue of what to include as required core courses in the physical layer is a significant debatable issue. The inclusion of a basic communications theory course is obvious. Beyond that, the Jonsson School Faculty elected to include:

Digital Communications Course covering basic digital modulation, multiplexing and coding

Transmission and Switching System Course

Basic Wireless Course

TE Senior Design Project

d) A second major decision was to determine what elements of the computer science curriculum must be included to produce a knowledgeable telecom engineer. The decision of Jonsson School faculty was to include:

Data Structures

Basic Software Engineering Course

Operating Systems

Computer Networks (Protocols)

This choice results in the prerequisites shown on the right-hand side of Figure 1. The rationale for this choice, as well as the course descriptions, is provided in the network layer section.


Table 2 shows how the UTD TE degree requirements meet, and indeed exceed, the credit hour categories established by ABET.3

The course work specified for the TE program meets the ABET engineering criteria. The program is an integrated experience aimed at preparing the graduate to function as an engineer. The UTD TE program includes a meaningful, major engineering design experience that builds upon the fundamental concepts of mathematics, basic sciences, the humanities and social sciences, engineering topics, and communication skills. Appropriate laboratory experience, which serves to combine elements of theory and practice, is also an integral component of the TE program in TE 3301, EE4350, EE4320 and TE4380.


Much of the curriculum for the BSTE is determined by the ABET criteria and Texas core curriculum requirements as discussed in Section II. However, the basic reason for developing BSTE is the integration of computer science courses and electrical engineering courses needed for understanding modern telecom networks. To perform this integration requires the elimination of some of the courses considered “essential” by the EE faculty and some considered “essential” to a CS faculty. This problem is similar to the issues faced in constructing a Computer Engineering degree, but the solutions for Telecommunications Engineering emphasize different areas.

A. Circuit Sequence

The issue in circuits and electromagnetics has been presented, i.e., there is not room in the curriculum for 12 hours of these courses, yet they are prerequisites for the basic physical layer communications course in EE. Our solution to this issue is to develop two TE courses, which covers the essential element of circuits as well as signals and systems. Topics related to electronic circuits, signals and systems are taught in two core courses of the TE program, TE3301 and TE3302.

1) TE 3301 Electrical Network Analysis (three semester hours): Analysis and design of RC, RL, and RLC electrical networks. Sinusoidal steady state analysis of passive networks using phasor representation; mesh and nodal analyses. Introduction to the concept of impulse response and frequency analysis using the Laplace transform. A lab is attached to this course.

2) TE3302 Signals and Systems Course (three semester hours): Strengthens the student’s background with advanced techniques and mathematical models required in the analysis of electrical networks and linear systems. Models include Fourier series and Fourier transform, Z transform in the frequency domain, and system response to impulse and sinusoidal input signals, in the time domain.

At the end of these two courses, the student is prepared to deal with digital communications systems and other advanced topics that uniquely characterize the TE program. Interestingly, EE has now adopted the two-course sequence for circuits also.

B. Queuing Aspects of Probabilty and Statistics

A telecommunications engineer must have knowledge of classic probability and statistics as taught in most EE programs, to deal with noise theory in communication systems as well as system and equipment reliability issues. However, a telecom engineer must also be able to deal with and use queuing theory for traffic analysis, delay versus throughput trades, and various other aspects for multi-processor networks and systems. The courses taught in CS and EE did not cover this broad range of topics, hence the program developed TE 3341 for this purpose.

1) TE 3341 Probability, Statistics and Random Processes in Engineering (three semester hours): Introduction to probability modeling and the statistical analysis in engineering and computer science. Introduction to Markov chains models for discrete and continuous time queuing systems in Telecommunications. Computer simulations.

C. Physical Layer Course in BSTE Program

The sequence of physical layer courses developed for the TE curriculum, and the ones included from the EE curriculum, are a large part of what makes this program unique and distinct from an EE program. Another reason it is distinct is the inclusion of a significant CS component at the network layer. The physical layer courses are:

1) EE 4350 Communications Systems (three semester hours): Fundamentals of communications systems. Review of probability theory and Fourier transforms. Filtering and noise. Modulation and demodulation techniques, including amplitude, phase, pulse code, pulse position, and pulse width modulation concepts as well as time division multiplexing.

2) EE 4360 Digital Communications (three semester hours): Information, digital transmission, channel capacity, delta modulation, and differential pulse code modulation are discussed. Principles of coding and digital modulation techniques, such as Amplitude Shift Keying (ASK), Frequency Shift Keying (FSK), Phase Shift Keying (PSK), and Continuous Phase Frequency Shift Keying (CPFSK) are introduced. M-ary signaling, such as Quadrature amplitude and phase shift keying, and M-ary PSK and FSK are also discussed.

3) TE 4365 Introduction to Wireless Communication (three semester hours): Introduction to the basic system concepts of cellular telephony. Mobile standards, mobile system architecture, design, performance and operation. Voice digitization and modulation techniques; PCS technologies.

4) TE 4367 Telecommunications Switching and Transmission (three semester hours): Trunking and queuing, switching technologies: voice, data, video, circuit switching and packet switching, transmission technologies and protocols, transmission media– copper, fiber, microwave, satellite, protocols-bipolar formats, digital hierarchy, optical hierarchy, synchronization, advanced switching protocols and architectures; frame relay, ATM, HDTV, SONET.

SJ TE 4380 Senior Design Project (three semester hours): Senior design project. Requirements will be set by individual faculty members, but will include a written report and a formal oral presentation of the final design product.

D. Network Layer Courses in BSTE Program

Two major developments in the telecommunications industry have influenced our choice of courses. The first development is the increasing amount of software in switches, routers, crossconnects, network management systems, etc. The second is the increasing focus of the industry on connectionless, packet-switched networks for data communication. In order to prepare future engineers for such developments, it is important that they be conversant in network protocols and operating systems. Moreover, implementation of networking solutions also requires that students be trained in the use of data structures and efficient computer algorithms. With these goals, undergraduate students in the Telecommunications Engineering program are required to take the Computer Science courses in Data Structures, Operating Systems and Computer Networks described below:

1) CS/SE 3345 Algorithm Analysis and Data Structures (three semester hours): Metrics for performance evaluation of algorithms. Formal treatment of basic data structures, such as arrays, stacks, queues, lists, trees. Various sorting and searching techniques. Fundamental graph algorithms.

2) CS/SE 3354 Software Engineering (three semester hours): Introduction to software life cycle models. Software requirements engineering, formal specification and validation. Techniques for software design and testing. Cost estimation models. Issues in software quality assurance and software maintenance.

3) CS/SE 4348 Operating Systems Concepts (three semester hours): An introduction to fundamental concepts in operating systems: their design, implementation, and usage. Topics include process management, main memory management, virtual memory, I/O and device drivers, file systems, secondary storage management, and an introduction to critical sections and deadlocks.

4) CS/TE 4390 Computer Networks (three semester hours): The design and analysis of computer networks. Topics include: the ISO reference model, transmission media, medium-access protocols, LANs, data link protocols, routing, congestion control, internetworking, and connection management.


The B STE program has grown very rapidly since its inception in 1998; the enrollment currently stands at 150 undergraduates and 50 graduate students. An on-line version of the EE program with a telecom certificate has also been added. The program is popular in the DFW area and seems to be a very good companion for an EE program. EE programs without CS or CE content have been losing enrollments,7 and TE may be a good way to offset this loss, as CE has proven to be.


1. “America’s New Growth Regions,” Business Week, October 19,1992.

2. Pierce, E., et al, “A New Brand of Tech Cities,” Newsweek, April 30, 2001.

3. “Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs,” Accreditation Board of Engineering & Technology, Publication 99AB-7 for 1999-2000 Accreditation Cycle.

4. Karim, MA., “Our Own Alphabet Soup,” Interface, Spring, 2001.


Electrical Engineering

The University of Texas at Dallas


Electrical Engineering

The University of Texas at Dallas


Computer Science

The University of Texas at Dallas


Electrical Engineering

The University of Texas at Dallas


Electrical Engineering

The University of Texas at Dallas


Engineering and Computer Science

The University of Texas at Dallas


Computer Science

The University of Texas at Dallas

Copyright American Society for Engineering Education Oct 2001

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