O. Sallent, A. Umbert, J. Perez-Romero, R. Agusti

Universidad Politecnica de Cataluña (SPAIN)
Wireless telecommunication networks have faced an impressive grow, progress and evolution over the last two decades, becoming wide-spread around the world. The rapid pace of global adoption and diffusion of mobile communications has revolutionized economic and social life.

Since early 90’s, more than 700 GSM mobile phone operators have deployed their networks. Similarly, since 2003, the so-called 3G (third generation) technologies have already been deployed. UMTS networks have exceeded 300 million subscribers. At this stage, standardization fora are already defining the so-called 4G (fourth generation) mobile systems, which promise impressive data transmission capabilities reaching up to 1.000 Mbits per second.

Focusing on the technological dimension of this evolution, wireless telecommunication networks have become extremely sophisticated and complex. This is further enforced by the fact that wireless networks are heterogeneous in nature and, usually, different systems have been conceived, designed and implemented following different principles and targeting different objectives.

In this context, teaching on wireless telecommunication networks faces a number of challenges, such as the fact that contents are dynamic in nature, the resulting framework is complex and heterogeneous, design principles can largely vary from one system to another, etc. In order to cope with these challenges, novel and advanced methodologies have to be implemented so that the expectations placed by students (who show high interest in these subjects) and industry (who demands skilled engineers in this field) are met.

This paper will discuss how the always-evolving technologies can be introduced to the students in a non-disruptive way but building novel concepts associated to newly introduced technologies on top of previous concepts associated to previously existing technologies. Furthermore, this paper will stress the relevance of the integration of theoretical contents and practical experience as key enablers for the learning process. Arguments in this paper will be sustained on a success case story, which has been implemented at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and analyzed along the last 5 years. To this end, the methodological approach has been built upon: (1) theoretical sessions on general wireless network design principles, which establish common aspects that are technology-independent, (2) theoretical sessions on specific wireless network systems (e.g. GSM, UMTS), which allow to introduce novel concepts (associated e.g. to UMTS) by remarking the differences with previous technologies (e.g. GSM), (3) practical sessions (on a two-people group basis) with the help of commercial software tools in the laboratory for the application of the general wireless network design and planning principles and (4) practical sessions (on a two-people group basis) with the help of real equipment which allows interacting both with the terminals and with the real network, to analyze its behavior in terms of physical layer procedures and signaling.

Conclusion reached after this 5-year analysis period confirms the suitability of the implemented methodology. Learning process has been drastically improved. Students report high level of satisfaction with the applied methodology and industry reports high level of satisfaction with the resulting skills.

Acknowledgements: The experience has been supported by Fundación Vodafone España.