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From IEEE Communications Magazine August 2017

Evolving ComSoc’s Technical Portfolio

Harvey Freeman
Harvey Freeman
Heinrich Stüttgen
Heinrich Stüttgen

The driving force behind many of ComSoc’s technical activities, such as publications and conferences, are its technical committees (TCs). Members of technical committees write papers, edit publications, organize meetings and conferences, and engage in other professional activities. Currently 26 technical committees cover most of ComSoc’s technical field of interest. Although certain topics, and with it associated technical committees, may become obsolete over time, in reality technical committees tend to exist for a relatively long time evolving their technical area with the technology trends at hand. However, new technologies emerge all the time and not all of them are covered appropriately by the existing technical committees. To create a mechanism to allow ComSoc members, whether they are from academia, industry, or governments, to address new trends, ComSoc has established its Emerging Technologies Committee. Com- Soc’s ETC was first formed some 10 years ago to identify and promote new technology directions in the broader field of communications and related areas. While this is not intended, technical committees and Emerging Technology Initiatives (ETIs) accordingly today mostly focus on activities geared at the research community and do not cover activities relevant to our industrial membership equally well. The current Chair of the ETC is Heinrich (Heiner) Stüttgen.

Heinrich Stüttgen was a Fulbright scholar at the State University of New York at Buffalo (NY) from where he holds a Master of Science degree (1979). In 1984 he obtained a Doctor of Science degree in computer science from the University of Dortmund. In 1985 he joined the IBM Research and Development Laboratory in Germany, developing one of the first mainframe UNIX systems. In 1987 he moved to IBM’s European Networking Center at Heidelberg, where he researched protocols for high-speed networks and multimedia communications. In July 1997 Heinrich joined NEC Europe Ltd. as founding manager of NEC’s Network Laboratories in Heidelberg. Since June 2007 he has been Vice President of NEC Laboratories Europe, responsible for NEC’s ICT related R&D activities in Europe, now focusing on network architecture, SDN/NFV, security and smart city related technologies, including the Internet of Things, data analytics and real world optimization problems.

Heinrich has widely published in various scientific conferences, journals and books. He was a guest lecturer at Mannheim University in computer networks and has been project auditor and proposal evaluator for the European Commission in the ICT area. Heinrich is an IEEE Fellow and an active volunteer within IEEE’s Communications Society. Within IEEE ComSoc Heinrich has held various leadership positions.

ETC’s Position in ComSoc

The ETC is a standing committee reporting directly to the Board of Governors (BoG) and the ComSoc President as well as the Vice President of Technical Activities. It consists of six members-at-large and a chair person, covering a wide range of technical fields. Every year two members “retire” and two new members are appointed. In 2017 the members are Shuguang (Robert) Cui (University of California at Davis), Gerhard Fettweis (Technical University of Dresden), Mathias Fischer (University of Hamburg), Thyaga Nandagopal (NSF), Besma Smida (University of Illinois), Tomohiko Taniguchi (Fujitsu Laboratories Kawasaki), and Heinrich Stüttgen (NEC Labs Heidelberg) as chair person. ComSoc members are encouraged to contact the ETC members directly to discuss related issues as well as to indicate their interest to contribute to and get involved in the ETC activities.

Regular Activities of the ETC

Considering that it is rather difficult to predict and plan when new technologies arise and become relevant to larger groups of ComSoc’s members such that a new ETI becomes of interest, the ETC works in two streams of activities. The first set of activities are supporting and reviewing activities of existing ETIs. The second and more irregular activities are those trying to generate new ETIs. Regarding existing ETIs, the ETC performs bi-annual reviews of the ETIs to track their activities and to recommend to the BoG elevation of the ETI to a full TC, to have another review two years later, or to disband. While in the past some ETIs (then called sub-committees) lived for many years without ever emerging as a full TC, a recent change in policy has been that every new ETI will be first reviewed after (roughly) two years, then elevated or be re-reviewed two years later. If it is still not elevated to TC after four years, that ETI will be disbanded. This policy has informally become known as the “Two-Plus-Two Up or Down Rule” and was first implemented in the 2016 ETI reviews. Based on this new policy only seven out of originally 15 ETIs continued to exist, while one ETI (Big Data) was elevated to TC and several others disbanded or merged. The currently active ETIs address the following topics:

  • Backhaul/Fronthaul Networking & Communications
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Nano-Scale & Molecular Networking
  • Quantum Communications & Information Technology
  • Software Defined Networking & Network Function Virtualization
  • Tactile Internet
  • Smart Grid

A second “regular” activity of the ETC is to edit a special issue each year in IEEE Communications Magazine addressing areas of particular relevance for the ETIs. In November 2017 the focus will be on software driven communications highlighting topics like Software Defined Networks and Network Function Virtualization (SDN/NFV), cloud communications and networking, as well as autonomic communications. The Call for Papers (CFP) generated high interest in the research community with more than 60 papers submitted for publications. For the 2018 issue the plan is to focus on Fronthaul/Backhaul Networks and Tactile Internet. The good turnout of the 2017 CFP will enable the related ETIs to better define their technical agenda as well as to establish a network of researchers working in the field such that the related ETIs gain critical mass to become full blown TCs. If the response to the CFP is too low, this may be an indication that the topic is not yet mature enough, already disappearing, or otherwise not attractive enough to sustain a TC.

Growing the ComSoc Community: Generating new Initiatives

While the processes for supporting existing ETIs are well defined, there is no “one size fits all” process to generate new initiatives. The first question to address is whether a new topic is of growing interest to a larger community. The second is whether it should be rather pursued within an existing TC as part of the ongoing evolution of that TC, or whether it would be better addressed by a new ETI, bringing together experts from different TCs or not yet involved in ComSoc’s technical activities. The third point that needs to be addressed is whether the topic is firmly grounded in ComSoc’s (traditional) turf or whether it is a topic of overlapping interest with other societies. In recent years we have observed a growing softwarization of many communication technologies, topics like Cloud-Fog,-Edge Networking, SDN, NFV, SDR, etc. are good examples of this trend. Because of the change in implementation techniques, the borderline between societies, e.g. between the IEEE Communications Society and the IEEE Computer Society, is blurring. Consequently, the best venues to gather experts on these topics may be different today than they were in the past. In recent years most ComSoc TCs have been gathering at Globecom and ICC conferences. The center of gravity of these two ComSoc flagship conferences is in the lower, more transmission oriented communications areas. The above mentioned topics are new topics that are more closely related to the higher, more software oriented networking layers. Hence, it may be inconvenient trying to gather these researchers at venues where they may find relatively little related content in the conference program, and we should consider different conferences as meeting venues for these communities.

At the IEEE level a mechanism to initiate cross-society initiatives exists. Out of the IEEE Future Directions Committee, cross-society initiatives on GreenICT, Cloud, IoT, and others have emerged, which obviously are of interest to more than one society. At this time we do not have a process or scheme in place to link these cross-society initiatives with our technical committees and ETIs. ComSoc president Harvey Freeman has just initiated a small committee to work out this issue that is quickly gaining importance.

A second important aspect to consider is the different interests and requirements of our members from academia and industry. Their needs are different both in types of services, i.e., research conferences and publications on basic technologies as opposed to technology digests, standards and market trends, applications, training, and human networking platforms. However, there is also a difference in technical interest: whereas the mobile communications industry has a clear short-term target called “5G” to be deployed in the early 2020s, academic research often targets technologies five or 10 years away from deployment. Within ComSoc we have not been very successful bringing both communities together. The current 5G Initiative might be a positive exception here. Similarly successful initiatives in other areas such as Cloud/Edge/Fog or IoT are lacking, partially because we do not have the right structures in place to support this and partially because the communities are distinctly separate. Solving this issue will be vital to enable ComSoc to evolve into the future in an ever changing technological environment.

Current State of Emerging Technology Initiatives

While we have disbanded several ETIs in 2016, we have failed to catalyze the formation of new ETIs at the same time, partly because of the problems described above, partly because our TC structure itself is historically grown and somewhat deficient without strategic perspective. Finally, a lack of awareness of the members about the available mechanisms to address new technologies and to start new initiatives within ComSoc may play a role.

How Can You Contribute?

Setting up a new Emerging Technologies Initiatives does not require much effort. It basically takes a group of supporting volunteers to define a technical scope and agree on an agenda for the next few years, such as organizing workshops and conferences, starting mailing lists or blogs, exchanging information related to the ETI’s topics, conducting regular meetings to discuss ETSC matters, maintaining a website to make the ETI known to other ComSoc members, etc. Sometimes new topics come and go within a year or two. More often, however, the interest in a new topic or theme will be with us for several years. To get started you are encouraged to contact the ETC to set up a first discussion (Birds of a Feather Meeting) at one of our larger conferences to gather a community with a common interest and move it forward from there.

Conclusion

In this short article I have tried to summarize the structures and processes that ComSoc uses to incubate new technical activities within the Emerging Technologies Committee, including some of the structural problems ComSoc is facing with this approach. However, any community is only as agile and successful as the members that support it. If the ETI model is good for you, use it. If you have other ideas or suggestions, feel free to contact me by email or join any of the ETC meetings, which are typically held on the first day of ICC and Globecom.