Communication Systems

Communication is essential for every society. Language, drawing, then writing have always enabled people to evolve and to transmit their knowledge and values.

Technological progress means that there has never been as much information as there is today.

It is increasing at a mind-blowing speed and comes in the form of data, images, sound, and film. Its instantaneous release around the world by means of communication networks makes it ubiquitous, because we can access it just about anywhere and at any time.

While these possibilities of communication are designed to be easy to use, the complexity of how they operate is fascinating: often it is about solving a technical problem by using mathematics in an original way.

As a communication systems engineer, you will have to ensure the reliability and efficiency of the flow of information. You will do this by developing new communication methods allowing data to be compressed or to protect it from the risks related to the environment in which it is transmitted as well as from malicious attacks. The latter particularly involves cryptology, a field which is continually evolving in order to effectively resist the ingenious efforts of hackers.

Wireless applications are also undergoing major developments. In parallel to the evolution of mobile telephones, the miniaturization of components now allows us to install sensors in various objects (embedded systems). Communicating over the network, these sensors enable actions to be monitored or triggered: applications related to climatic conditions already exist (permafrost, avalanches), object positioning (such as, for example, mobile telephones), and even for building security. This means that protocols must be developed to be able to manage the numerous data exchanges, while minimizing the quantity of energy needed for system operations.

Program presentation

The training for communication systems engineers is founded on mathematics, computer science, electricity, and telecommunications.

EPFL’s Syscom department promotes opportunities to spend a year in a foreign university which you can choose from the large number of institutions with which it has frequent student exchanges.

BSc Program (180 ECTS credits)

Classes during the 1st year are given jointly to computer science students and communication systems students. You will receive the fundamental basics in mathematics, computer science, and information science. A project will enable you to have your first real experience of your future specialization. At the end of this preliminary year, you can choose to remain in communication systems or to change to computer science. During the 2nd and 3rd undergraduate years, you will pursue your basic training in mathematics/physics as well as in specific fields with classes on network security, signal processing, circuits and systems, stochastic models for communications, etc.

Study plan

Prospects: MSc Program

The training offered during your last two years is as broad as it varied, with optional classes. The MSc program, for which all classes are taught in English, offers several fields of specialization: Computer engineering-SP, Computer science theory, Data analytics, Foundations of software, Information security-SP, Internet information systems, Networking and mobility, Signals, images, and interfaces, Software systems, Wireless communication.


Other programs will be open to you after graduating with the BSc degree, in particular some interdisciplinary MSc programs. Consult our website on Master Studies or further information about this.

Please note that the information regarding the programs’ structure as well as details of the study plan may be subject to change.

Career Prospects

Once you have successfully completed the BSc then the MSc program, you will be ready to enter the professional world. The possibilities which are open to you strongly depend on how open-minded you are and on how you are able to deal with new situations.

In other words, on your ability to deal with change, an attitude that you will have been taught to develop thanks to a curriculum which continuously changes, and to the diverse origins of the students you will spend time with as well as because of our policy encouraging the recruitment of teaching staff from around the entire world.

Given the increasing importance of communication, you will find opportunities to work in all of the economic sectors, in particular the financial or telecommunications sectors. Depending on your interests, you will be able to use your skills to ensure the quality, reliability, or the security of information exchanges. You will quickly take on project-management tasks or leadership responsibilities. The more enterprising among you will choose to set up your own organization, the potential for innovation with communication systems being particularly fertile for such initiatives. Finally, you could be inspired by the amazing potential for Syscom research to do a PhD, which will open the doors to an academic career, in particular.

Whatever you decide to do, your professional work will require interpersonal skills since you will most often be working as part of a team, in partnership with people who have diverse training backgrounds.


Alumni testimonial

Yannick Do

I’ve always been interested in the web and computer networks, so I chose to study communication systems...

Yannick Do, Bachelor and Master degrees in Communication Systems (2009)

… Since 2011, I’ve been working for one of the biggest consulting firm for technology. I’m a specialist for technical architecture and installation of IT infrastructures and processes, but I also work on many different projects. This is the advantage of the consulting field: every day is different and gives you new challenges and opportunities

After my graduation in 2009, I did a six-month internship for the Swiss embassy in Japan. I worked for the Sciences and Technology office. I organized events for innovation or to promote Swiss start-ups and small companies in the Japanese business milieu. I not only discovered a new culture, but I also learned a lot about international collaboration and scientific intelligence. When I came back to Switzerland, I spent 6 months at EPFL as a software developer, in the topometry lab, for my civil service. Then I started my current job.

In my day-to-day routine, it’s not really the high-level technical skills learned at university that are important. What’s important is that after the high quality and intense studies at EPFL, I’m definitely very well prepared to learn quickly and take new challenges every day. As a consultant, I particularly liked the idea of travelling, working on big projects and the possibility to have a career. Even as a junior, I’ve had responsibilities from the beginning and I could prove my capacities.


Students testimonies

Le simple fait de pouvoir (presque) The mere fact of being able to create (almost) anything using nothing more than a computer and your own imagination has always fascinated me.

Teo Stocco, student in second year of the Bachelor's program.

… until I finally had to decide which section to study in: communication systems or computer science? I took part in two open day events for baccalaureate pupils (the first oriented more towards communication systems and the other more towards computer science). I carefully read through the course catalogue and eventually decided that communications systems was right for me. The compulsory subjects are more oriented towards mathematics and information science.

In my first year of studies, I discovered two subjects that I found truly interesting: discrete structures and information science. These two branches stand out from the other courses because the subjects studied are rather atypical and very vast. Although they involve a lot of work, the notions covered and the knowledge gained open your eyes to the world of mathematics and make your studies all the more fascinating. Two other aspects that also give me great pleasure are the impressive array of options to choose from (all tempting, from the second year onwards) and the opportunities to apply your knowledge in small- to large-sized projects. These projects are mainly centered on real problems (calculating public transport routes, simulating epidemics, etc.), which makes them very motivating.

Are the studies difficult? Maybe. What is really important is to have a certain degree of commitment. However, all of the time and energy pays off! Former students whom you will meet before and during your studies have all sorts of incredible stories to tell. Whether it be about a project that they spent time on or about companies that are trying to hire them or how they created their own successful start-up company, etc. The most amazing thing is the wide range of really good opportunities that open up after you finish your studies.

One day, a friend whom I met in my first year of studies, asked me if I wanted to go with him and another student to do an internship in the USA. The previous year he had worked with a professor from the well known National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and he planned to return there. And that’s how I suddenly found myself applying my knowledge in a global earthquake monitoring project, which keeps track of various terrestrial indicators to assess the risk of earthquakes and issue alerts days in advance. My role was to compile data recorded by satellites so that they could be processed, analyzed and saved in a data center. Apart from the technical aspect, it was a golden opportunity to discover Silicon Valley and the atmosphere surrounding the place. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!


Before starting my Bachelor's degree program in communication systems at the EPFL, I didn't have the faintest idea of what an operating system was, knew nothing about Java or even about programing!

Céline Dupuis, student in first year of the Master's program.

… in his/her free time in order to study at the IC School. However, I have to admit that you come across a lot of computer geeks in these studies…and it’s actually pretty cool!

What I really liked right off the bat was to discover what really happens each time you launch a search query in Google, whenever you send an e-mail message or compress a file into mp3 format. Thanks to the mathematical formulas and theories taught to us, we gradually lift the veil of mystery surrounding computer networks. My third year for me was confirmation of the fact that I had made the right choice to take courses such as Digital Photography, Computer Graphics or Signal Processing. I had always appreciated the world of arts and music and I was delighted to be able to combine scientific discipline with creativity. Not only that, there was a project to simulate the Casino of Montreux that had burned down in 1971: “Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Sky”. Who has never heard this famous refrain from Deep Purple, which actually tells the story of the Casino of Montreux that caught fire during a concert in 1971?

When I saw that the EPFL’s Audiovisual Communications Laboratory had offered to create a virtual reconstruction of this concert hall, I jumped at the opportunity. The first step was to gather as many documents as possible so that we could create a precise model of the Casino. This involved conducting interviews with people who had attended the first Montreux Jazz Festival, reading newspaper articles from the town archives, analyzing dozens of photos, examining blueprints, etc. On top of that, we had old audio and video recordings thanks to the work done by the Metamedia Center, which digitized over 5,000 hours of concerts at the Montreux Jazz Festival. What could be more stimulating than plunging into a past so full of stories and anecdotes and to be given access to such a rich artistic heritage?

As soon as the concert hall had been modeled in the computer, we applied acoustic algorithms to reconstruct sound in 3D. The project was presented at the Montreux Jazz Festival over a two-week period last summer: during the two hundred or so demos that we presented, the spectators found themselves back in 1970s, surrounded by 16 loudspeakers and watching a virtual tour of the casino projected on a giant screen. In this fully immersed state, it was possible to relive a concert from the 1970s as if we’d actually been there!

Contact

Looking for further details about this program? Please check its specific webpages or use the contacts below:

[email protected]


+41 (0)21 693 66 61