The world today is built on connectivity and information exchange via media such as the internet, smartphones, videos, radio, and email. This connectivity depends on safe, reliable networks – networks that need to scale, become faster and handle greater usage on a daily basis. That, in large part, is why telecommunications is a behemoth industry, led by major players such as Cisco (60% market share), HPE/Aruba, Juniper, and Huawei.
Telecommunications is a diverse industry, one that spans critical components such as network security, wireless networking, systems engineering, telecom policy, and more. As a field of study, telecommunications is also unique. Unlike other academic paths, a graduate education in telecommunications is designed for current professionals in the field seeking to augment and expand their technical skills or who desire to shift their careers into management and the business side of the telecommunications industry.
Beyond technical know-how, tech leaders must not only be familiar with the telecommunications environment at-large, but also have an understanding of project management and organizational behavior. As innovations rapidly alter the landscape of the telecommunications industry, continuing education in the field is critical for today’s professionals.
Classification of Master’s in Telecommunications Programs
Perhaps interestingly, master’s in telecommunications are not niche academic programs, but vital — and growing — graduate programs of study. Instruction is multifaceted, combining technical training in networking systems with business and management practices for career advancement. Through these programs, students are exposed to a multidisciplinary curriculum that covers subjects including telecommunications regulations and policies, wireless networking, computer network security, optical communications, and more.
Typically, graduate education in telecommunications is offered within a Master of Science (M.S.) degree track. Example Master of Science in Telecommunication programs can be found at the following universities: Boston University, University of Maryland, Pace University, and the University of Pittsburgh.
However, other institutions have launched graduate programs with similar curricula under different names. Examples of these programs include:
- Southern Methodist University: Master of Science in Telecommunications and Network Engineering
- University of Nebraska: Master of Science in Telecommunications Engineering
- Florida International University: Master of Science in Telecommunications and Networking
Regardless of the naming convention, these programs share common learning outcomes — preparing today’s students for the global information industry of tomorrow. Beyond core coursework in areas such as networking, students may also be able to further specialize their degree track with a program specialization. Common telecommunication specializations include the following:
- Computer networks
- Telecommunications policy
- Information and network security
- Wireless systems and networking
- Network engineering
In addition, master’s in telecommunications programs may also prepare graduates to pursue career certifications throughout the industry, including:
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer
- Cisco Certified Network (Associate)
- Cisco Certified Network (Professional)
- Certified Novell Engineer
Curriculum Details for Master’s in Telecommunications Programs
The curriculum in master’s in telecommunications programs blends coursework in technology, policy and business. Typically speaking, this instruction is spread between 30 to 36 credit hours of graduate study, divided between core classwork (12 – 15 credits); electives (6 – 9 credits); and thesis/concentration classes (6 – 9 credits).
Core classes introduce students to the fundamentals of telecommunications, covering topics such as
operating systems, computer networks, wireless communications, telecommunications management, and computer networking security. Students develop a fundamental understanding of core telecommunications and networking concepts, learning skills in planning and installing networks, enhancing and expanding security systems, or even troubleshooting connectivity issues. Students use core classes as a bridge to advanced, specialized study in their electives/concentration courses.
Students then use electives to develop a sophisticated working knowledge of telecommunications in their chosen area of study (e.g. wireless networks, information security). However, these courses also serve as a training ground for career advancement, helping students develop managerial analysis and information-gathering skills, teaching them how to organize, plan and operationalize both small- and large-scale networking systems and security projects in their chosen field of work.
Elective coursework varies by program, but may include topics such as the following:
- Data mining
- Web applications
- Artificial intelligence
- Web servers
Depending on the institution, students may choose from different master’s degree options, including thesis- and non-thesis tracks. Non-thesis tracks may require additional coursework (usually two to three more classes), as well as a comprehensive examination and/or portfolio to graduate.
The list below includes sample classes students may take while enrolled in a master’s in telecommunications program.
- Internet Protocol and Architecture: Provides a systematic approach to the planning behind and implementation of network architecture and protocols (e.g. TCP/ICP), exploring a variety of related subjects, such as HTTP/HTTPS, multimedia and video, email, and more.
- Data Networking: Serves as an introduction to the foundational principles of data networking, covering protocols such as HTTP and FTP, IP protocol, socket programming, web caching, and network security.
- Wireless Networks: Explores both the theory of and practical instruction in wireless and cellular networks, providing students with insights into mobile IP, radio communications, local area networks, and more.
- Database Design and Management: A study of information systems, introducing students to concepts in data modeling and sharing, SQL, database management, and server-based applications — all within the scope of for business use.
- Network Security: A high-level overview of computer network security, offering students practical knowledge of VPN (virtual private networks), wireless security, firewalls, viruses, and more.
- Business Management for Engineers: A review of financial and economic models in information technology, considering topics such as return on investment, rate of return, risk management, and case studies in statistical decision making.
As discussed above, students must complete between 30 and 36 credit hours of study to graduate with a master’s in telecommunications. Depending on the student and individual program, students may finish their programs in two to three years of full-time study. The table below outlines a sample degree plan for a master’s in telecommunications that requires approximately 36 credit hours of study to complete.
Career Paths for Graduates with a Master’s in Telecommunications
The telecommunications industry is built on innovation and change. Spanning every business and technology sector, telecommunications offers significant opportunities for professionals in the field. Beyond core phone and networking systems, telecommunications is experiencing unrivaled advancements in multiple areas, each of which present varied employment options for individuals considering a graduate education in fields such as:
- Mobile networks
- Artificial intelligence
- Virtual reality
- Internet of Things (IoT)
In short, the technology ecosystem (which encompasses wearables, autonomous vehicles, machine learning, biometrics, and more) continues to evolve at breakneck pace. This change means telecommunications professionals must maintain the knowledge and technical skills not only to maintain pace with innovation, but also to serve as innovators as well — helping give shape to the technological frontier.
With a master’s in telecommunications, graduates can pursue careers in any number of areas, such as networking, software, application development, and information security. Below is an example list of telecommunications roles individuals with a graduate education may want to consider:
- Network Engineer: Network engineers, also known as computer network architects, plan, develop, install and manage a company’s network system, including intranet systems, local area networks (LAN), wireless networks and more.
- Software Engineer: Software engineers use programming languages (e.g. C#, PHP) to translate user requirements for software, websites, databases and information technology systems to write and test code, build applications and databases, and write operational documentation.
- Systems Engineer: Systems engineers blend business acumen and technical skills to handle day-to-day operation of a company’s information technology (IT) systems, data communication systems, and computer/network hardware.
- Telecommunications Network Engineer: Telecommunications network engineers manage a company’s telecommunication systems, ensuring devices ranging from phones, routers, WI-FI systems, and video networks are protected from cyberattack, are built to scale, and are up-to-date.