6 ECTS credits
160 h study time

Offer 1 with catalog number 4011284ENR for all students in the 2nd semester at a (E) Master - advanced level.

2nd semester
Enrollment based on exam contract
Grading method
Grading (scale from 0 to 20)
Can retake in second session
Taught in
Partnership Agreement
Under interuniversity agreement for degree program
Faculteit Ingenieurswetenschappen
Applied Physics and Photonics
Educational team
Jürgen Van Erps (course titular)
Geert Morthier
External teachers
Geert Morthier
Activities and contact hours
36 contact hours Lecture
36 contact hours Seminar, Exercises or Practicals
Course Content

This course offers an introduction to optical communication systems, and covers a broad range of topics with special attention for the practical perspective of these systems. Physical understanding of the components and systems prepares students for designing optical links, including making design trade-offs in the practical implementation of those systems. After an introduction to the basic concepts of optical communications with an historical perspective, this course covers propagation in optical fibers, including attenuation and nonlinear effects, as well as the fabrication of optical fibers. It also covers chromatic and waveguide dispersion in optical fibers and dispersion compensation techniques. Additional topics include optical transmitters such as semiconductor lasers and LEDs, photodetectors (PIN, APD) and optical amplifiers such as Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers and semiconductor optical amplifiers. Students also gain an understanding of performance measures such as bit error ratio (BER), eye diagram, receiver sensitivity, optical power budget, as well as of optical network architectures and topologies. Finally, they gain insight in modulation and multiplexing techniques (WDM systems, WDM components, optical TDM). In the hands-on part, students learn how to design a long-haul telecom link using state-of-the-art simulation tools.

Course material
Digital course material (Required) : Optical Communication Systems, J. Van Erps
Digital course material (Required) : Slides used during the course, J. Van Erps
Handbook (Recommended) : Fibre-Optic Communication Systems, Govind P. Agrawal, 5ed, Wiley Interscience, 9781119737360, 2021
Additional info

Lecturing team:

VUB: Prof. Jürgen Van Erps

UGent: Prof. Geert Morthier

Lecture (HOC): 36 hours

This includes guest lecture(s) by speaker(s) from industry, during which attendance is compulsory. 

Tutorials and practical exercises (WPO): 16 hours

Attendance is compulsory. During these practical sessions, the operation of two commercially available state-of-the-art simulation software tools will be explained and a project assignment will be given.

Independent learning (ZELF): 108 hours.

The individual project assignment consists of the design of a long-haul link using the above-mentioned simulation tools (40 hours). The project files and a written report on the project should be handed in one week before the exam.   


Learning Outcomes

Algemene competenties

1.Aims and objectives:

Driven by the relentless increase in the demand for bandwidth, optical fiber communications have become ubiquitous for long-haul telecommunications. Therefore, the student should understand the basics of light propagation through optical fibers, and how these fibers can be fabricated and used as a fundamental building block in optical networks, together with optical transmitters, optical amplifiers and optical receivers. This should allow the student to understand the operation of optical networks, as well as enable them to design long-haul optical telecom systems.

2.Competences and Exam requirements:
The students have to prove that they master the principles of optical fiber networks, including e.g. attenuation, dispersion and nonlinear effects in optical fibers, how to mitigate those effects, how to make an optical power budget, how to choose the appropriate photodetector, and describe the operation of different types of optical amplifiers. In addition, the student should show insight in multiplexing techniques such as wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), the required components to realize such WDM networks, understand network topologies and performance monitoring of optical networks (through e.g. the eye diagram and the bit error rate).

Finally, the student should be able to design a point-to-point long-haul optical telecom link with dedicated commercial software packages (RSoft OptSim, Lumerical MODE Solutions) and show that they are able to find a cost-effective design solution by optimizing the interplay between attenuation, dispersion and nonlinear effects. After an in-depth introduction to the software tools, the students will receive a project assignment for which they have to make a written report describing their optical link, its performance, and the most important design choices they’ve made.

In conclusion, this course contributes to the following competences:
- Knowing and understanding the main components and system concepts that are used in optical communication.
- Apply Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) tools in a creative and target-oriented way to design long-haul optical communication links.
- Choose the most appropriate design and test methods for optical communication systems (and their components), understand their theoretical background and apply them accurately. This also includes the ability the correctly interpret the datasheet of the most commonly used optical communication components.
- Understand non-optical aspects of optical communication systems, such as electronics (modulation schemes, signal-to-noise ratio, performance monitoring, etc).
- Have an insight in the main evolutions of fundamental research and the recent innovation trends in the field of optical telecommunication. 



The final grade is composed based on the following categories:
Oral Exam determines 100% of the final mark.

Within the Oral Exam category, the following assignments need to be completed:

  • oral exam with a relative weight of 1 which comprises 100% of the final mark.

    Note: The students get questions on the theoretical part of the course, which they can prepare in written before the actual oral exam. These are open questions and for the written preparation the use of course material (notes, slides,…) is not allowed. During the oral exam, there will also be questions about the practical part of the course (i.e. the design of an optical telecom link), building upon the project report that was delivered by the students 1 week before the exam, and some hands-on questions on the use of the software tools used during the course and the project.

Additional info regarding evaluation

The examination consists of an oral exam with written preparation (closed book). 

The grading of the oral exam consists of:
50% theory part
50% project assignment (which is a combined score of the written report and the oral exam)

Allowed unsatisfactory mark
The supplementary Teaching and Examination Regulations of your faculty stipulate whether an allowed unsatisfactory mark for this programme unit is permitted.

Academic context

This offer is part of the following study plans:
Master of Photonics Engineering: On campus traject
Master of Photonics Engineering: Online/Digital traject