One of our objectives in the College of Applied Science and Technology at RIT is to offer our students some kind of "hands-on" experience along with theory. Providing a hands-on experience can be costly, however, especially in the field of optical communication. Although reasonably priced laboratory kits are available, the optical-electronic components in these kits are well below communication grade. Thus if we rely only on hardware, our students can only experiment with low power, low bit rate communication over a few kilometers of fiber.
Computer simulation software offers an affordable alternative "hands-on" experience. With this software, a student can create a model of an optical system, execute the model and view measures of the system's performance. The system components can include DFB laser diodes, high-speed modulators, hundreds of kilometers of fiber, APD receivers and other optical and electrical components. The student can view the optical signals in the time or frequency domain, measure optical power and signal-to-noise ratio and much more. He or she can also view the effects of parameter variations or find the optimal value of a parameter. The software is easy to learn, especially if the student has previous experience with an electronic system simulator.
This paper describes our application of an optical-electronic system simulator in the Telecommunications Engineering Technology program at RIT. We are developing a series of exercises to complement courses in fiber optic. These exercises will allow students to model and test systems that they have designed. We expect computer simulation to enhance our fiber optic courses significantly by adding a reasonably realistic and accessible test bed for student designs.