Telecomm engineers see the big picture in specialized course – 25 years on

Engineering Prof. Halim Yanikomeroglu checks out an advanced antenna setup for next generation wireless communications in the radio communications laboratory. (Susan Hickman Photo)

This winter, some lucky 70 engineering students will walk through the doors of a lecture hall on campus and, for the first and last time during their studies, they will see the big picture of the telecommunications industry and understand what it takes to start an information technology company.

The course they will be taking as part of their final term of their final year, the 25-year-old SYSC 4700 Telecommunications Engineering, is unique in Canada, and in spite of the high number of applicants, must cap enrolment due to limited space of off-site tours of Bell Mobility’s central switching centre and Bell’s Global Network Management Centre that are included in the course. While undergraduate students are never turned away, there is an increasing demand from master’s students who cannot always be accommodated – the course is so popular.

By the end of term, says engineering Prof. Halim Yanikomeroglu, who has been co-ordinating SYSC 4700 since 2006, “Students will be able to see the forest rather than the individual trees. Many pieces of the puzzle come together.”

What makes it unique, says Yanikomeroglu, is the fact that some 15 or more specialists in their field attend the class as guest lecturers, tying up a multitude of concepts from various perspectives.

“In Ottawa, we have this golden opportunity to access many federal laboratories, the Communications Research Centre, many technology companies such as IBM, Ericsson and Alcatel. It’s a very rich list,” he says.

Yanikomeroglu sets the stage for the course by offering a few lectures on the fundamental dynamics of telecommunications engineering, but the majority of classes are led by experts in cellular communications, wireless network management, transmission media, cloud computing and global telecommunications standards, for example.

The feedback he gets from his students particularly fulfilling.

“It’s very unique, unconventional, with rich and broad content and is much appreciated by students year after year. This is the time when students are looking for jobs and this course gives them the jargon and the big picture in communications engineering that the interviewer expects.”

A core course for communications engineering and an elective for electrical, computer systems and biomedical engineering, the course was introduced to Carleton’s Department of Systems and Computer Engineering in 1990, at a time when universities around the world were taking an innovative approach to engineering education.

Robert Haughton, who was with Bell Canada until 1983 before going on to develop a teaching alliance between Carleton and the telecommunications industry, was instrumental in getting the course of the ground and still, now in his 90s, gives a brief opening motivational talk.

“He was a visionary,” says Yanikomeroglu.

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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