Electronic communication is ubiquitous in homes, offices and urban environments. You probably regularly use mobile devices, Wi-Fi and broadband. What makes such forms of communication possible? How do they relate to each other? Why is their performance so variable? This module gives you an insight into these and other questions, by looking at the fundamental principles of communications technologies. Through these principles you will gain an insight into the possibilities and constraints of modern communications technology. This module complements other modules relating to networking, human-computer interaction, and pervasive computing.
What you will study
Block 1 concerns the physical aspects of signals and their environment. You will study the theory and practice of signals (such as how electrical and radio signals can represent data), the propagation of signals through space and through materials, and the physical media that are used to convey signals, such as optical fibres, free space and conducting materials. Issues of noise and spectrum availability are ever-present because they set limits on what is possible. Accordingly you will study and use Shannon’s theorem, which specifies the maximum rate at which information can be sent over a channel of a specified bandwidth in the presence of noise. You will also study some concepts from Fourier’s theorem, which shows how an information-bearing signal occupies a band of frequencies rather than a single frequency.
The second block concerns the nature and types of codes that are used to represent digital data. Although digital data is thought of as a succession of zeros and ones, the way those zeros and ones represent data needs ingenuity because perfect transmission in the presence of electrical noise (or interference) is impossible; and noise is unavoidable. In practice, the probability of error must be made sufficiently low, and this is achieved by use of error detecting and error correcting codes, which add extra zeros and ones to the data. You will study some of the main coding methods used to add resilience to signals. You will also look at some of the techniques used to reduce the amount of data imperceptibly so that files can be compressed.
The final block looks at the principal types of access network in use. These are the networks used to connect users to the main data and telephony trunk routes. They include mobile data (3G, 4G and 5G), DSL broadband (which is the type delivered over a user’s fixed-line telephone connection), Wi-Fi, optical fibre and co-axial cable. The basic principles of these are covered with a view to uncovering their similarities (such as the increasing adoption of orthogonal frequency division techniques) and the factors that affect the performance of these types of network. The block concludes by looking at the implementation of security and virtual private networks in the context of teleworking.
If you are considering progressing to The computing and IT project (TM470), this is one of the OU level 3 modules on which you could base your project topic. Normally, you should have completed one of these OU level 3 modules (or be currently studying one) before registering for the project module.
You must have passed one of the following modules:
You should understand the distinction between analogue and digital, and be familiar with:
- the use of binary numbers to represent digital data
- sines and cosines.
You should also understand and be able to perform basic manipulation of algebraic terms and to read graphs with linear and logarithmic scales.
To prepare for this module, we recommend Communication and information technologies (TM255) as suitable preparation.
If you have any doubt about the suitability of this module, speak to an adviser.
You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:
- a week-by-week study planner
- course-specific module materials
- online activities and quizzes
- audio and video content
- assessment details and submission section
- online tutorial access
- access to student and tutor group forums.
You’ll also be provided with three printed module books, each covering one block of study.
You will need
A calculator with standard scientific functions.
You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).
Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.
To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).
Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.
Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.
It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.