Optical Communications

Course summary

  • Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PJ
  • This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.
  • Course code O18C006H6Y
  • moac@eng.ox.ac.uk
  • +44 (0)1865 283263
  • Dates to be confirmed - Accepting applications

Optical Communications


This is the fifth unit of the part-time MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications, and includes the following topics:

Programme details

Optical Fibres        

Topics include:

  • Structure of optical fibres, manufacture of optical fibre, fibre attenuation
  • Numerical aperture
  • Pulse broadening in a step index multimode fibre
  • Increasing the bandwidth: path equalisation in graded index fibres
  • Single mode optical fibre

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand the transmission limits of electrical cables and the need for fibre optics.
  2. Be familiar with the different types of optical fibre used in modern telecom networks, their methods of manufacture, and their transmission characteristics.
  3. Know how to estimate the bandwidth of step index multimode fibres and how graded index fibres offer improved performance.
  4. Be able to solve the propagation equation in a graded index fibre and calculate pulse broadening through the fibre.


Topics include:

  • Dispersion in optical fibres: material dispersion
  • Dispersion limited transmission
  • Dispersion from sources with large spectral width

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand what is meant by dispersion in an optical fibre.
  2. Know what are the main types of dispersion in single mode fibres and their effect on bandwidth.
  3. Be able to analyse the propagation of a Gaussian pulse through a dispersive fibre and relate the results to dispersion penalty of the fibre.
  4. Understand loss limited transmission and dispersion limited transmission and the idea of power penalty in a fibre optic system.
  5. Understand the need for dispersion compensation and the main methods available, including fibre Bragg gratings.

Sources and Detectors

Topics include:

  • Sources
  • System Considerations
  • Detectors
  • Receivers
  • Specifying a receiver
  • Error performance
  • Quantum Limited Detection
  • Real receivers
  • Noise sources
  • Preamplifiers
  • Noise calculation and analysis
  • Relating SNR to BER; Receiver Specifications

Learning outcomes. Students will:

1. Know the main optical sources used in communications systems and their main characteristics.

2. Understand the main components that make up the optical receiver, the causes of noise, and how the error performance is predicted.

Wavelength Division Multiplexing

Topics include:

  • Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM)
  • The Information Capacity of the Optical Fibre
  • The limits of electronics
  • Limits of electro-optics
  • Fibre Capacity with WDM
  • WDM Point to Point Links
  • Required Components
  • Stable Wavelength Sources
  • WDM Networks

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand how electronics and optics limit the information capacity of an optical fibre and how the use of WDM systems exploit fibre bandwidth.
  2. Understand the main components that comprise a WDM network and their characteristics.

Multiplexers, Demultiplexers and Amplifiers

Topics include:

  • Multiplexers
  • Grating based multiplexers and demultiplexers
  • Mach-Zehnder Interferometer
  • Array Waveguide Grating Multiplexers/Demultiplexers
  • Add and drop multiplexers
  • Filters; Optical Amplifier - Erbium Doped Fibre Amplifier
  • Wavelength converters; Optical switching

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand the role of multiplexers and demultiplexers.
  2. Understand the need for interferometers.
  3.  Know the basic principles of the erbium doped fibre amplifier and how to calculate a simple expression for the nonlinear gain.
  4. Understand the main components that comprise a WDM network and their characteristics.

Wireless Optical Communications

Details to follow.

Recommended reading

You will be issued with a reading list before your residential week via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).


Accommodation is not included in the course fee but may be available at your college and at Rewley House.

Bed and breakfast accommodation at other University colleges can also be booked on the Oxford Rooms website.


Radcliffe Science library

The Radcliffe Science Library (RSL) is the main science research library at the university. The library holds copies of all of your reading list items, and most of your engineering library research will be done using this library’s resources. The library is located less than 5 minutes away from the Engineering Science department, at the corner of Parks Road and South Parks Road.

The subject librarian responsible for Engineering Science is Alessandra Vetrugno (alessandra.vetrugno@bodleian.ox.ac.uk), based at the RSL.

The Department for Continuing Education

The Department for Continuing Education is based at Rewley House in Wellington Square, only five minutes walk from the Department of Engineering Science (Thom Building).

In addition to supporting the various aspects of the course that involve online learning, the Department has facilities available to students during their attendance in Oxford. In particular, the Department has a Graduate Room - a study space dedicated to graduate students with lockers, printing facilities and refreshments. The Graduate Room is accessible from 8.00am to 10.00pm (24hrs for students using the Department’s overnight accommodation). The Continuing Education Library, also located at Rewley House, has quiet study space and a ‘Reading Room’.

IT requirements

In order to participate in the pre-course material, you will need access to the internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification which can be found at onlinesupport.conted.ox.ac.uk/TechnicalSupport/YourComputer.php


This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.

Teaching methods

Each of the six taught units will typically follow the structure below:

  1. Online material and exercises using the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). We would expect you to take 12 weeks to work through this material.  We will expect you to read specific material online and be familiar with the necessary pre-requisites of the course before each residential week in Oxford.
  2. A residential week in Oxford during which you will attend classes, complete tutorial exercises, participate in tutorial classes, meet your personal tutor and, where necessary, complete practical assignments.
  3. Assignments, which are available online and which must be completed and submitted by the deadlines (see Key Dates).

This course is taught by members of the Engineering Science Faculty, who you will meet as lecturers, as tutors for classes, or as your dissertation supervisor. One member of faculty will be assigned to you as a ‘personal tutor’ at the start of the course. He or she will provide advice and guidance, and discuss your academic progress. Your personal tutor will meet with you at each of the residential weeks, and you can contact him or her by email.

Your course supervisor will write a formal report on your progress three times a year on the online Graduate Supervision System (http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/gss/). You will be able to view that report and will be asked to reflect on your progress as well. 

Virtual Learning Environment

This course uses a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which is a web-based application called WebLearn.

Access to the course VLE is via an internet browser using your University Single Sign-On account. When the course has started and you have activated your Single Sign-On,  you will have access to the student forum, information about student support, course documents and examiner reports.  If you are unable to access WebLearn, please email the course team with details of your Single Sign-On (moac@eng.ox.ac.uk).

You will be given access to an 'Induction' VLE which houses supporting materials for the MSc on Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communication at the start of the academic year, and to separate sites for each unit as and when you are due to take them.

During the course you will also be required to submit work through our online Moodle Assignment Submission System. 

Assessment methods

One assignment comprising a set of problems to solve (example sheet) will be provided during Week 1 via remote learning and should be submitted online during Week 7. This assignment will not contribute to your overall degree outcome and you will receive written feedback from your tutor via the VLE.  A second example sheet will be provided during Week 7 via remote learning for submission online during Week 11. Again, this will not contribute to your overall degree outcome, written feedback will be provided online and will be discussed during the residential week.

Finally, there will be one written examination paper covering all six topics. This paper will be provided towards the end of the 12 week course and will be formally assessed with the outcome providing the mark for the completed unit. The paper will be distributed online and must be submitted for assessment online.

Additional worked examples and problems may also be provided during the course via the VLE.


This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.