Engineers and engineering technicians specializing in communications design create electrical components, such as medical equipment, communication devices, and computer parts. Students train to become electrical engineering technicians in communications by earning a two-year associate's degree, although these programs are rare. More common are bachelor's degree programs in electrical engineering with a specialization in communications. Having a bachelor's degree is a requirement for state licensing as an engineer. Most programs require candidates to have a strong background in mathematics, especially advanced algebra, geometry and physics, before being admitted to the bachelor's degree program.
In both types of undergraduate degree programs, students gain fundamental knowledge of the physics, math, and electronics studies required in the field. Through classroom and lab work, they learn about topics such as electrical circuit analysis, semiconductors, and digital communications.
Master's degree programs offer advanced study to students with bachelor's degrees in engineering. Students conduct research on various topics, including wireless communications, and present a thesis on their work.
Associate's Degree in Communications Engineering Technology
Although rare, associate's degree programs in communications engineering technology are offered by some junior and community colleges. These programs include both classroom and laboratory instruction to prepare students for workforce conditions. Students learn about control systems, circuits, and microprocessors. Graduates are able to apply class credits toward a bachelor's degree in a related field.
Prospective students only need a high school diploma or equivalent to enter an associate degree program. Curricula focus on learning to deal with a variety of communications networks to understand the theories they are based on, and their functioning. Students take classes in physics, math, and electronics to provide a basis for understanding how these disciplines apply. Popular course topics include:
- Electrical circuit analysis
- Electrical power
- Technical communications
- Industrial and digital control systems
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Students choose to enter a four-year bachelor's degree program in electrical engineering with a communications specialization. Programs teach students electrical engineering fundamentals. Students take electives in communications, focusing on engineering theories relevant to the design of communication systems.
Like with the associate's degree programs, students need a high school diploma or GED prior to admission. Classes introduce fundamental engineering principles, as well as communication systems design and theories. Students also engage in laboratory classes to help them apply what they've learned. Some subjects specific to communication engineering include:
- Wireless system design
- Digital communications
- Digital signal processing
- Fiber-optic communications
Master of Science in Electrical Engineering
Communication engineering is a concentration within some master's programs in electrical engineering. Graduate students finish these programs in two to three years, depending on whether they're full-time. The content is more geared toward wireless and mobility issues in communication engineering than in an undergraduate program. Individuals wishing to take their expertise to an advanced level are encouraged to enroll.
Students conduct research on wireless aspects of communications and take courses in related subjects. In most programs, students must complete a thesis based on their individual research. Course topics include:
- Stochastic systems and signals
- Coding theory
- Wireless systems
- Microwave engineering
While an associate's degree program can qualify graduates for engineering technician jobs, a bachelor's degree may provide more advanced employment opportunities and a higher salary. Common career options include:
- Electrical engineer
- Electronic engineer
- Systems engineer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Upon graduation, students can become electrical or electronic engineering technicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), electronic and electrical engineering technicians will have a predicted 2% decline in employment for the years 2014 through 2024 (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for an electrical and electronic engineering technician was $61,130 in May 2015, according to the BLS.
The BLS projected that electrical and electronics engineers will have little or no growth for the years 2014 through 2024. Electrical engineers earned a median annual wage of $93,010 in May 2015, according to the BLS, while electronic engineers made $98,270.
Licensure and Certification Information
Graduates who intend to work as professional engineers need to become state licensed. The BLS says that this requires graduating from a degree program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and gaining relevant experience for four years. Once they meet these requirements, applicants take a state-administered exam.
Certification also is available to working professionals who have a college degree and appropriate experience. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) offers the Wireless Communication Engineering Technologies (WCET) certification. Candidates pass an exam to become certified. The IEEE recommends applicants have at least a bachelor's degree and three years of experience.
At the associate's level, students learn about control systems, circuits and microprocessors through hands-on and classroom instruction, as they prepare for careers as electrical engineering technicians. Those wanting to become licensed electrical engineers must go on to earn a bachelor's degree, while students wanting to work with more advanced technologies earn a master's degree.