Wireless Communications

Course summary

  • Mon 15 Jul 2019 to Fri 19 Jul 2019
  • 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 O18C004H6Y
  • moac@eng.ox.ac.uk
  • +44 (0)1865 283263
  • Applications being accepted

Wireless Communications


Modern communication systems map information to sequences of binary symbols (bits) and transmit these digital signals using a combination of advanced coding, transmission and reception techniques. The performance of some communication systems is close to theoretical limits due to the availability of sophisticated hardware (integrated circuits) capable of executing these techniques efficiently and at a very high rate (on the order of hundreds of MHz or even GHz). 

In this unit, the principles and techniques that underpin these systems are introduced. The evolution of cellular networks in the last 30+ years has led to a proliferation of wireless communication devices and solutions for consumer and public sector applications. At present, there are approximately 7 billion mobile subscriptions globally, giving one subscription per person on the planet on average. 

In 2014, mobile data traffic alone was nearly 30 times more than the size of the entire global Internet in 2000.  As if this were not enough, we find ourselves on the cusp of the Internet of Things era as wireless sensors and actuators pervade the devices and infrastructure that we use each day.  It is estimated that several trillion wireless connections will become active in the coming decade.  Amazingly, much of the technology that underpins this soon-to-be multi-trillion dollar industry is based on a set of fundamental discoveries, theories and principles that are considered in this unit.

Programme details

Wireless Channels

The aim of this section is to understand the salient properties of wireless channels and be able to perform basic link budget calculations for practical examples. We will explain what is meant by channel fading and how different statistical fading models apply in different contexts. You will then be shown how to calculate important parameters of interest, including the level crossing rate and the fade duration, for simple statistical fading models.

Topics include:

  • Signal propagation
  • Dispersive channels and multipath
  • Path loss
  • Shadowing
  • Link budget analysis
  • Small-scale fading
  • Statistical fading models
  • Slow fading, fast fading and Doppler
  • Level crossing rate and fade duration, narrowband channels


Channel Equalisation and Impairments

In this part of the Wireless Communications unit, we will consider how a receiver can recover a transmitted message using optimal and suboptimal techniques in nondispersive and dispersive channels. By the end, you should be able to formulate the system model for dispersive and nondispersive wireless channels and calculate linear equalisers for narrowband and wideband systems. We will also describe the key features of multicarrier and single-carrier block modulation schemes and how such schemes can be employed to yield state-of-the-art wireless communication systems. Finally, we will also consider the practical impairments of communication systems and how they are dealt with.

Topics include:

  • Maximum likelihood sequence estimation
  • Nyquist’s condition for zero intersymbol interference
  • Linear equalisation (zero forcing and minimum mean-square error)
  • Nonlinear equalisation (decision-feedback equalisation)
  • Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing
  • Single-carrier transmission with frequency-domain equalisation
  • Carrier phase estimation
  • Timing recovery
  • Channel estimation


Diversity and Multiplexing

In the third section, we will discuss the concept of diversity and how it can be exploited in practice. Our aim is to provide a clear description of the mathematical definition and physical meaning of the SNR outage probability and diversity. You will be shown how to calculate the outage probability for basic diversity channels and use this to determine the diversity and coding gains of a system. We will explain the motivation for exploiting transmit diversity rather than receive diversity and vice versa. At the end of this section, you should be comfortable proposing transmission and reception architectures that would yield a prescribed diversity gain. The section will also introduce multiple-input multiple-output channels and where and how these channels are encountered in practice. As part of this, we will consider the advantages and disadvantages of linear and nonlinear methods of detection.

Topics include:

  • Macrodiversity
  • Microdiversity
  • SNR outage probability
  • Diversity gain
  • Coding gain
  • Time diversity
  • Spatial diversity
  • Frequency diversity
  • Diversity reception
  • Equal-gain combining
  • Selection combining
  • Maximum ratio combining
  • Diversity transmission
  • Space-time coding
  • Alamouti code
  • Generalised complex orthogonal designs
  • Multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO)
  • Spatial multiplexing
  • Beamforming
  • Multi-antenna receiver techniques
  • Massive MIMO

Capacity and System Performance

The focus of this section is on the quantitative analysis of the capacity of key wireless channels encountered in practical systems. We aim to provide an understanding of how channel capacity results have influenced the design of standardised systems and you should then be able to analyse the error probability for basic wireless communication systems.

Topics include:

  • Ergodic capacity
  • Parallel channels
  • Diversity channels
  • Effects of channel state information at the transmitter and/or the receiver
  • MIMO channels
  • Adaptive modulation
  • Information outage probability, error probability


Interference and Multiple Access

In this topic, we will describe basic cellular network models along with the main sources of interference in wireless networks and how interference can be modelled for the purposes of system analysis and design. The section also includes a description of how key multiple access techniques operate to enable multi-user communication in wireless networks. By the end, students will have an awareness of the multiple access schemes that are specified in the main wireless communication standards.

Topics include:

  • Uplink and downlink
  • Cellular network models
  • Signal-to-interference-plus-noise ratio
  • Wireless LAN
  • Wireless PAN, TDMA, (O)FDMA, CDMA
  • Frequency hopping
  • Successive interference cancellation
  • Superposition coding
  • Random access
  • Capacity


System Modelling and Simulation

In the final section of this unit, we will show you how to construct a simple link level simulator in MATLAB so as to analyse system performance. We will also demonstrate how to construct a simple system level simulator in MATLAB to analyse the coverage in a cellular network.

Topics include:

  • Monte Carlo simulation with MATLAB
  • Link level simulation
  • System level simulation (coverage)

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) www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/science 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 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.