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What does an RF Engineer do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Radio frequency (RF) engineering entails the design, construction, and maintenance of wireless telecommunications equipment. RF engineers create schematics for cell phones and broadcasting devices, set up new wireless Internet networks, and maintain existing systems of communication. Many professionals utilize their knowledge of electrical engineering and RF physics to expand the geographical reach of clear radio waves. A skilled RF engineer can usually find employment at a research and development firm, broadcast station, telecommunications company, or a military office.

An RF engineer who works in research and development invents new technologies and determines ways to improve existing systems. Most research engineers work in teams with other professionals to brainstorm ideas and develop new products. The team uses mathematical models and physics equations to work out the details of RF theory. Their calculations are used to turn theoretical concepts into practical applications for all types of technology, including radio antenna systems, cell phones, and satellite dishes. This team oversees the construction of new products to ensure their effectiveness.

Many RF engineers perform network installation and maintenance tasks at telecommunications companies and broadcast stations. They make sure that large servers and transmitters are kept in proper working order, and determine how to send clearer, wide-reaching television and radio signals. Some field engineers specialize in programming digital transmitters and receivers. They work with products such as wireless routers, cable boxes, and antennas to ensure their effectiveness in picking up signals. An RF engineer may also act as a systems analyst at a large company, conducting preventive maintenance duties and repair jobs on local area networks.

Government and military branches staff skilled RF engineers to develop new communications technology. Professionals design cell phones and two-way radios that transmit signals that are extremely difficult to intercept. They use their knowledge of RF theory to scramble signals, increase transmitter capacities for broadcasting over large areas. Many people in this position are involved in actual military operations to perform on-the-spot equipment repairs and maintenance.

A bachelor's degree in electrical engineering is usually the minimum requirement to become a field RF engineer. Researchers often hold master's degrees in their specialty. Some countries and certain companies require new engineers to pass written licensing exams that test their understanding of the theoretical and practical aspects of the job. Most new workers begin as junior technicians or engineers, where they learn on-the-job skills from experienced professionals. With time, an individual may be able to advance to a senior engineer position where he or she can devise independent research projects and supervise a team of other workers.

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Discussion Comments

By anon968205 — On Sep 01, 2014

How much does an RF engineer earn for a start, if they have only a BSc and Msc?

By anon357260 — On Dec 02, 2013

It's a career with a long life line and opportunities to continually be innovative.

By JackWhack — On Oct 08, 2012

When my friend was applying for the job of RF system engineer, one of the requirements was a PhD. So, competition in this field is not as fierce as it is in many other positions. How many people do you know who have a PhD in engineering?

The other requirement was five years experience. My friend had a PhD and seven years experience, so they hired him on the spot.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 08, 2012

My brother is an RF field engineer, and he has to travel most of the time for his job. He doesn't mind this, though, because he is single and doesn't have anything tying him down to one spot.

He has to work with cell phone companies, and he has to use testing equipment to determine if he has fixed the problem or not. One requirement of being an RF field engineer is having good communication skills, because you do have to interact with others quite a bit. You have to be able to explain the problem and the solution to them in a way that they can understand, too.

By orangey03 — On Oct 07, 2012

@DylanB – The salary varies depending on the RF engineer's job description, but all of them pay very well. My dad was an RF engineer for thirty years, and he wound up making about $90K a year.

I wish I could get paid this much at my job, but I realize that they are compensated for a unique set of skills. Like you said, not many people have what it takes to choose this as a career and succeed at it.

By DylanB — On Oct 06, 2012

I bet that RF engineer jobs pay really well. Not everyone can do what they do.

I think that even with training, I would be unable to comprehend the concepts necessary to be an engineer. My brain just doesn't work this way.

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