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A Message from the 2021 Technical Activities Vice President

Dear Colleagues,

In my last message, I wrote about how IEEE Societies and Technical Councils have adapted and thrived as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and charged Society and Technical Council leadership to continue to be ambitiously forward-thinking. The June Technical Activities Board Meeting marked the halfway point of my term as Technical Activities Vice President, and I am pleased to see that TAB has risen to meet that challenge.

At the beginning of the year, I defined several priority areas for TAB in 2021: Society/Council Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration; Engagement vs. Membership; and Technology Roadmaps. I was happy to report at the June TAB meeting that progress is being made in each of these focus areas, and to share an update on the various types of engagement that TAB is fostering across IEEE.

Society/Council Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration

So many of today’s technologies are not limited to one subject area, or the purviews of a single of IEEE’s 46 Societies and Technical Councils. As such, I’ve asked Societies and Councils to proactively identify technical areas that can be most successfully addressed by working together. These include both emerging technologies and existing fields that are relevant to the fields of interest of multiple organizational units. By being proactive and looking at which technologies might soon be emphasized in each Society/Council’s field of interest, we can ensure improved ways to support new and cross-cutting technologies, and that the newest and most groundbreaking technologies transition seamlessly into the fabric of IEEE.

In addition, Societies and Councils will be working closely with the IEEE Future Directions Committee (FDC), which is conducting R&D of emerging technologies for Technical Activities. By helping to identify emerging technologies that we should support, we are building opportunities for future content and revenue sources in Societies and Councils which often incorporate matured FDC projects into their portfolio (such as Smart Grid in IEEE Power & Energy Society, and Cloud Computing in IEEE Computer Society). This helps Societies and Councils inherit a new technology, engaged volunteers, future members, and potential conference or publications revenue sources.

Because cross disciplinary new technologies impact multiple Societies and Councils, I started an ad hoc committee looking at offering multi-Society/Council membership discounts.  By offering an attractive grouping of related Societies and Councils as part of the membership discount, we are working to increase volunteer engagement in technical activities and offering those volunteers involved in cross disciplinary technologies with access to related societies and councils.

Engagement vs. Membership

TAB is working diligently to engage those in historically underrepresented groups, including industry, government, and entrepreneurs, beginning with developing relevant content for these audiences. To help with this, TAB will be supporting a new initiative pilot project in Silicon Valley, which hosts a multitude of tech industries that cross into Society/Council areas. The introduction of a business development hub office will help identify ways IEEE can engage more effectively with industry and entrepreneurs.

Also of significant importance is engagement with Chapters and other local groups. Partnering with Chapters on related activities is crucial to the success of IEEE and to tackle declining membership in certain areas. Through the remainder of 2021, TAB will focus on improving Chapter connection and support with Technical Activities, beginning with implementation of recommendations defined by a recent ad hoc committee. This will include starting new Chapters at academic institutions and initiating new projects generated by Chapter volunteers. In addition, I hope to share more information about a pilot project on Local Chapters and the Technical Community 2.0 program in a future message.

Technology Roadmaps

Roadmaps set frameworks and establish priorities around emerging technologies. They serve as a blueprint for where technology is headed, and how to support its potential. The purpose of a technology roadmap is to stimulate an industry-wide dialogue to address the many facets and challenges of the development and implementation of an emerging technology in a well-coordinated and comprehensive manner. Roadmaps do not solely provide information; they create an opportunity to engage closely with industry, government, and academic experts.

In addition to creating new roadmaps, we are attempting to make them more visible. In support of IEEE’s leadership on technology roadmaps, a trademarked logo was established. Leveraging a crowdsourcing contest, over 130 designs were submitted from over 60 designers, and members of the IEEE Roadmaps Committee (IRC) and user’s group voted on the top 8 designs.

I welcome you to learn more about IEEE’s roadmap initiatives, including what roadmaps are planned and existing and how you can contribute, by visiting

Finally, I’d like to invite you to learn more about IEEE’s 263 Eta Kappa Nu (HKN) chapters worldwide. HKN is the IEEE honor society, and TAB has committed to collaborating with HKN to engage volunteers and members, especially in emerging geographic regions. To learn more about HKN and how you can become a member, visit the IEEE HKN webpage.

Thank you for your continued support of TAB and engagement with IEEE.

Roger U. Fujii

2021 Vice President, IEEE Technical Activities

Future Tech in Focus

How will technology impact Climate Change, SmartAgrofood Systems, and Public Safety? What challenges does this create? Are there solutions? IEEE Future Directions is generating dialogues in these areas through the IEEE Future Tech Forum (FTF) – and they want your participation.

“Our ambition is to bring global experts from industry, academia and government, discussing leading technology, frontline issues and crucial challenges. We aim to inspire participation and dialogue from a broad sector: women in engineering, young professionals, entrepreneurs, researchers and ethicists, to list a few,” says Christine Miyachi, Chair, IEEE Future Directions Committee (FDC).

One of FTF’s goals is to strengthen relations with industry members, in addition to their partnership with IEEE Industry Engagement Committee. “Research translates into industry because industry is the application of that research. Research can change an industry,” says Kathy Grise, Future Directions Senior Program Director. “A great example of this is how the internet started as a research project, Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). The internet launched a new industrial revolution.”

“We would like to realize an increase in the participation of industry as well as a young generation of engineers. We want to encourage and attract future innovators. Technology affects us all and we need all these interests represented at our events!” says Miyachi.

“FTF is starting with smaller events that build new partnerships and expose innovative technologies. This enables us to better understand our audience and their interests. Our approach is to build one-day or half-day sessions/roundtables on future topics with global speakers and gain broader visibility. We want to foster partnerships, collocate with industry events, and finally launch a signature stand-alone event,” says Samina Husain, co-chair FTF Ad Hoc and FDC Member-at-Large.

Currently, the roundtable topics include Climate Change, Smart Agrofood Systems, Digital Transformation, and Public Safety Technology.

Climate Change Roundtable

FTF’s first event, the Climate Change Roundtable, was held in April and had attendees from every IEEE Region. The event keynote speakers and panelists:

  • commented on climate change and associated threats,
  • discussed potential ideas for resolutions, and
  • highlighted developments/initiatives that contribute to combating climate change.

Topics discussed included: 6G technology and architecture to foster global sustainability impact, climate change and telecommunications, and the Information and Communication Technology sector as an enabler for a more sustainable world.

“The event was a virtual and interactive session, and the presentations generated a number of probing questions from the audience. In addition to the positive feedback we received, the event ran over time, an indication of strong interest and success,” says Miyachi.

The Climate Change Roundtable discussed answers to these questions and more:

  • What is the alternative to nuclear energy?
  • Can there be an optimal clean energy mix without nuclear?
  • What are the impacts of lithium mining on climate change?

Listen to the Climate Change Roundtable.

Impassioned, Energized Audience

FTF grew out of other successful Future Directions events. FDC ran Technology Time Machine (TTM), which showcased panel discussions and keynote presentations with respect to future technologies’ benefits, challenges, and societal impacts. After that, FDC organized a TedX-like event called IEEE EnLightening. The inspirational event featured short, diverse talks leaving the audience impassioned and energized about the future of technology.

“Thanuka Wickramarathne’s inspirational path to his interest in multi-sensor data fusion and Jeewika Ranaweera’s motivational journey to Silicon Valley and high-speed microprocessors were the highlights of the event,” says Husain.

Drawing on these engaging events and their positive outcomes, FTF was born. Objectives are to have a sustainable conference, which attracts global speakers and participation, and has strong partnerships with industry, academia, and government.

FDC purposely launched FTF with smaller, online events focused on a specific topic because technologies constantly evolve. Having shorter dialogues every few months allows for a greater impact and more opportunities to engage the community. FDC works to see that the events are not just well attended but also drive future discussions, future forums, and long-term activities in IEEE.

“We want to influence future trends as a result of FTF discussions,” says Grise.

“Our final goal is to be a flagship conference on future technology directions. A similar concept to the World Economic Forum but with a focus on technology. We envision this becoming the leading global event that brings engineers, innovators, policymakers, and humanitarians from all over the world to discuss how technology can serve humanity – a mission of the IEEE. We are thinking big – world leaders in government, research, and industry will want to attend – a space for everyone to join together, present ideas, and find solutions,” says Miyachi.

Shape Our Future

“Participation in FTF events can be highly effective at advancing a wide range of professional objectives, building and extending professional contacts, finding mentors and collaborators, and advancing attendees’ subject matter expertise. The variety of session formats used in FTF offer unique experiences and learning opportunities where attendees can sample a range of presentation approaches and styles. Anyone who cares about technology’s benefits, impacts, and solutions should participate,” says Jeewika Ranaweera, co-chair FTF Ad Hoc and FDC Member-at-Large.

Keep track of upcoming FTF events.

A Message from the 2021 Technical Activities Vice President

Dear Colleagues,

As I begin my term as IEEE Technical Activities Vice President, I reflect upon the many ways IEEE Societies and Technical Councils have adapted their activities in the past year to meet the occasion of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around this time, in 2020, IEEE was just beginning to understand how the health crisis would impact the way we conduct business and interact with our volunteers and members. Within a very brief period of time, members, volunteers, and staff were tasked with transposing entire portfolios of planned activities to a new virtual landscape. We were asked to successfully meet the current needs of our constituents, while also addressing the challenges of a global pandemic. Our resilience and energy to adapt was tested, as we were forced to “think outside the box” – and, in many cases, out of our comfort zones.

IEEE and IEEE Technical Activities met this challenge head-on, and I would like to acknowledge the successful efforts across IEEE, and especially in our Societies and Technical Councils. This dynamic, in a way, mirrors the approach we need to take each day as we work together as an organization to “advance technology for the benefit of humanity.”

Technology, and the needs of our members, are constantly evolving. And while we are beginning to see some signs of a return to normalcy, I challenge us to continue to embody the flexibility, adaptation, and collaboration that have been demonstrated over the past year. By learning from our ability to shift quickly, scale efficiently, and adapt significantly, we will be better prepared to meet new challenges as they arise, attract a more diverse group of members, and reach technologists on a significantly larger scale globally. It is IEEE’s ability to adapt that will ultimately engage existing and potential members, and we must remain forward-thinking and collaborative to ensure that IEEE is well-positioned for a successful future.

In Technical Activities, cross-disciplinary collaboration drives success. Our Societies and Technical Councils must work together to address emerging technologies, identify future sources of new products and services, and tap into segments with whom we’ve not historically engaged. They must be ahead of the curve and proactively identify future trends and technology roadmaps, while staying rooted in the foundational principles of their respective fields of interest.

To bring visibility to the exceptional work of IEEE Societies and Technical Councils, I will be sharing major accomplishments from them that embody the spirit defined above. At present, I would like to highlight two examples: how IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) has strengthened industry relationships via their corporate engagement program and how IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) has worked to reduce the digital divide.

IEEE Power & Energy Society Strengthens Relationship with Industry Partners

One of PES’ primary strategies in 2020, while continually looking for ways to engage with new members, was to develop a strong liaison with industry. PES made notable progress throughout the year by expanding activities provided to the PES Corporate Engagement Program participants to include five organizations, with plans to offer the partnership beyond North America.

By participating in the PES Corporate Engagement Program, companies gain access to a host of “collaboration benefits,” such as access to the PES Resource Center, participation in cooperation initiatives with regulatory and government entities, networking opportunities with industry leaders, online training around topics of interest, and company-facing education around guides and standards development. A full list of collaboration benefits can be found here. In 2020, multiple professional development online events were offered to program participants. Close to 400 people participated.  The final materials were made available in the PES Resource Center.

The Corporate Engagement Program has yielded benefits beyond what it offers to companies. PES members from Corporate Engagement Program participants were key contributors to the “Sharing Knowledge on Electrical Energy Industry’s First Response to COVID-19” white paper released in May 2020. The paper drew upon input from global energy industry stakeholders. It was made available free via the PES Resource Center and has been downloaded close to 1,000 times since its release. This quick action to share knowledge on the industry’s first response has helped ensure the reliable and safe distribution of electricity to communities worldwide.  

IEEE Communications Society Works to Reduce the Digital Divide

ComSoc has recently engaged in efforts to reduce the digital divide, which has been widening in the past decade, creating economic and informational inequities, but which has become especially pronounced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This gulf denies disadvantaged populations access to timely and useful data on the internet as they are unable or less able to obtain digital information, work from home, access remote learning, receive health care services, schedule online appointments, or learn and share skills.

This divide, which has been increasing, has been greatly amplified and accelerated by the pandemic, which induced heavy reliance on remote learning, tele-work, e-commerce, banking, and medical consultation. As we strive as a society to return to some normalcy, the divide prohibits those who have difficulty using the internet and/or devices (due to economic, age, disability, and other factors) from accessing valuable information such as the ability to schedule vaccination appointments.

ComSoc is currently exploring efforts to reduce the disparities and equalize opportunities – which will require creating and introducing new infrastructure, financing, policy, regulations, and education on how to use the medium. This is a much larger effort than simply giving computers and network services to people without access; there is a sociological aspect that must be addressed, and in order to foster this dialogue, ComSoc is creating opportunities to raise visibility.

As such, ComSoc hosted a workshop in October 2020 at which a major topic was the need for underserved communities to have sufficient bandwidth access to participate in the digital economy and live a lifestyle that enables digital aptitude.

ComSoc is also planning an October 2021 hybrid workshop with a focus on global reach and regional promotion. The goal of the workshop is to produce a set of recommendations that influences public and private efforts to drive digital inclusion around the globe and address it from the technical, economic, and social aspects including policies legislations, public and private financing, with the intention of creating a sustainable effort giving the sociological aspects of the problem the proper emphasis. ComSoc welcomes all interested IEEE entities to participate. More on this subject will be shared in a future TA Technical Community Spotlight issue.

Throughout the rest of my tenure as Vice President, Technical Activities, I will charge Society and Technical Council leadership to approach their work with the same tenacity that fueled their ambition at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and that these Societies have demonstrated. I extend an open invitation to all TA Societies and Technical Councils to send me impactful accomplishments of your organization so that I can highlight your accomplishments in future Spotlight articles. I encourage the rest of IEEE to join me and look forward to seeing how we can create new opportunities together.

Roger U. Fujii

2021 Vice President, IEEE Technical Activities

Enrich Your IEEE Experience with Technical Memberships

There are countless professional opportunities waiting to help  you stay technically current and connect with leading experts and colleagues in your technical field.  IEEE’s more than 50 specialized Societies, Technical Councils, and Technical Communities facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration among technical professionals, connect experts both across and within disciplines and develop programs that challenge traditional technologies through novel research and applications. As an IEEE member, adding a Society, Council, or Technical Community can be low-cost or even FREE!

  • IEEE Societies: With 39 Societies to select from there is at least one Society that aligns with your specific technical area of expertise.  IEEE Society members stay technically current, network with colleagues locally and abroad, and collaborate on research projects with leading experts. Discover which IEEE Society matches your field of interest and, as an IEEE member, you will enjoy a deep discount when you join today. 
  • IEEE Councils: Bringing together groups of IEEE Societies with complementary fields of interest, IEEE Councils work together in broad areas of technology. With seven IEEE Councils to select from, IEEE members can participate in Councils at no cost when added to their Society membership.
  • IEEE Technical Communities: With more than a dozen technology areas represented, IEEE Technical Communities delve into cutting-edge fields. Participants can join these at little to no cost and get in on the ground floor of research and applications of these emerging subject areas.

Based on your technical interests, IEEE has a Technical Society, Council, or Technical Community available to facilitate networking, collaboration and keeping current on the latest research and developments. Discover which technical membership fits your professional interests.

IEEE Volunteers Growing Food and Opportunities in Nicaragua

Joint-funding program fuels partnership in HAC and EDS

IEEE volunteers worked together to benefit a local community and further their own skills by joining the humanitarian technology project, Automated and Sustainable Drip Irrigation System in Rural Nicaragua. As part of the new joint-funding project model, IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (SIGHT) and IEEE Electron Devices Society (EDS) provided co-funding to maximize project impact.

The local community benefited from job creation and fruit harvesting while IEEE volunteers developed technical and professional skills and networked within IEEE. IEEE SIGHT and EDS volunteers and local IEEE members and student members formed the project team.

“Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Many rural areas usually have problems with access to water, energy, job, and business opportunities. We decided to provide access to water to improve agricultural practices for the community and the quality of living. Our approach would also help the community create a sustainable business idea through the use of appropriate technology including a photovoltaic system, electronic sensors, weather station, and automated water pumping system,” says Mario Aleman, IEEE EDS and SIGHT volunteer from Nicaragua who served on the project team.

The IEEE volunteers in Nicaragua partnered with La Paz Carazo community to install the efficient water irrigation system. The project team realized that sustainable irrigation through the community center will spur additional community empowerment, micro-enterprise business opportunities, and a unique educational model.

When considering a project proposal for funding, IEEE SIGHT measures it against three pillars:

  1. The feasibility and sustainability of the technology being used,
  2. The needs of the local community, and
  3. The involvement of local partners.

“Everything needs to be relevant to local communities and respect the culture. This bottom-up approach drives the innovation cycle and makes the project scalable,” says Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan, 2020 IEEE SIGHT Chair and 2021 IEEE Humanitarian Activities Committee (HAC) Chair.

For the Nicaragua project, the team installed a water irrigation system embedded with a low-power consumption electronic micro-controller to allow efficient drip irrigation and assist growing of agricultural crops during periods of inadequate rainfall. The sustainable irrigation solution will enable community members to create more economic opportunities for local residents. Additionally, the extra access to electricity through a solar-powered system will support lighting and a computer or two to increase the hours for learning and the breadth of educational opportunities.

“EDS has a strong commitment to humanitarian and educational projects. Our goal is to live up to our vision of ‘Promoting excellence in the field of electron devices for the benefit of humanity.’ This project encompasses the three main areas that we seek to include in our projects; Education/Entrepreneurship/Energy while providing EDS members an opportunity to use their technical skills for the benefit of society,” says Fernando Guarin, EDS Past President.

“The creation of an automated and sustainable drip irrigation system was an opportunity to help others as well as work in a multidisciplinary experience with engineering students and professionals from different backgrounds including agronomy, computing, and electrical engineering. This helped us grow professionally,” says Aleman.

Student members served as leaders and co-leaders and participated in the coding and design of the risk system, agricultural analysis, and installation of the photovoltaic system.

“These projects provide opportunities for students and young professionals to gain real-world experience. It allows them to put their technical skills into action outside of the classroom and see the different areas of a project. It also helps them grow other skills, like communication,” says Veeraraghavan.

“Our volunteers who implemented this project have the opportunity to create a scientific article that can be presented at IEEE conferences such as the Latin American Electron Devices Conference (LAEDC),” says Aleman.

The team in Nicaragua plans to scale and replicate their project in underserved areas.

“This project constituted EDS’s first partnership with SIGHT. It enabled the funds from EDS and SIGHT to go farther and make a greater impact,” says Guarin.

In 2020, EDS granted US$25,000 to IEEE HAC/SIGHT in order to replicate the joint-funding model with other projects.

“We are looking to allocate a similar amount in 2021 and will be having a call for joint proposals in the near future,” says Guarin.

Joint-Funding Partnerships

“IEEE SIGHT is thankful to Society and Council leaders who are helping us engage and deliver the mission of IEEE. Societies and Councils are key. Their members have specific technical knowledge. These partnerships are a key global vision and strategic goal under my leadership for HAC/SIGHT. The programs provide a win-win model. Societies and Councils can engage members across the spectrum of their membership. Students get to develop skills and network within IEEE while Senior Members can mentor and share their expertise with the new generation of engineers. They are crafting a better future for their Society/Council,” says Veeraraghavan.

In 2019 and 2020, IEEE HAC/SIGHT rolled out joint partnerships with EDS, Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S), Antennas and Propagation Society (AP-S), and Industry Applications Society (IAS). Several workshops were held to train Society members.

“One example was the workshop and HAC/SIGHT panel at the IEEE PowerAfrica Conference in Nigeria which inspired and connected many society volunteers in Africa to take part in Humanitarian technology activities,” says Veeraraghavan.

IEEE HAC/SIGHT plan to expand the joint partnerships initiative with additional Societies.

“Recently, we had discussions with IEEE Signal Processing Society (SPS), Photonics Society, Power and Energy Society (PES), AP-S, MTT-S, and EDS. We can’t wait to see the outcome of these efforts by the end of 2021,” says Veeraraghavan.

“We encourage other IEEE members to carry out community projects and enjoy the passion to give back and work together,” says Aleman.

To find out more about IEEE HAC/SIGHT funding opportunities, visit the HAC website. To request information about potential avenues for your Society to collaborate with IEEE HAC/SIGHT please write to

2019 – 2020 SIGHT chair Sampath Veeraraghavan along with PowerAfrica organizing team visiting a local power station in Abuja, Nigeria in August 2019

A Message from the 2020 Technical Activities Vice President

Dear Colleagues,

In my last message, I wrote about how we have had to process the global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the IEEE, including Technical Activities, has adapted in countless ways to the challenges presented.

As we look toward the last IEEE Board Series of 2020, I am reminded of how there have been so few opportunities to work with my colleagues in Technical Activities face-to-face this year. I am inspired, however, by what has been accomplished in this time of mostly virtual engagement, including the work of the 2020 Technical Activities Board (TAB) ad hoc committees.

Two of this year’s TAB ad hoc committees have already completed their work – the 2020 TAB Ad Hoc Committee on Sections Congress, and the 2020 TAB Ad Hoc Committee on 21 Day/24 Hour Rule. I would like to thank the members of these committees for their service; the former to oversee IEEE Technical Activities’ participation in this year’s Sections Congress (which was sadly canceled) and the latter to explore a way to conduct TAB business more efficiently and effectively.

The remaining two TAB ad hoc committees are focused on better serving our diverse membership. The 2020 TAB Ad Hoc Committee on New Constituent Model and Opportunities demonstrates TAB’s commitment to new and emerging technologies. By identifying a simple, scalable framework to incubate new technical communities, Technical Activities will be better prepared to break down past silos and build improved ways to support new and cross-cutting technologies.

IEEE is as diverse globally as it is technically, yet currently almost all IEEE web sites and IEEE Xplore content is discoverable and presented only in the English language. To better serve the global community, the task of the 2020 TAB Ad Hoc Committee on Accelerate Localization/Globalization of Technical Content is to determine the feasibility of finding and presenting content on IEEE websites and IEEE Xplore in languages in addition to English (with version of records still in English). Progress has been made by leaps and bounds in machine translation based on machine learning, and it is timely to consider finding/presenting content in languages in addition to English. The committee is working to evaluate potential solutions and will produce a feasibility report and determine recommendations.

In addition to these four TAB ad hoc committees, TAB has collaborated across multiple OUs via several joint ad hoc activities.

The IEEE Joint MGA/TAB Ad Hoc Committee on Improving Chapter Support formed to ensure quality member engagement at all levels: Regions, Sections, and TAB must work together to support Chapters. As Chapter support varies by organizational unit, this collaborative activity aims to increase member engagement by providing the tools and resources Chapters need in order to better serve their local members.

A joint strategy for IEEE publications was approved by TAB and PSPB in November 2019. The IEEE Joint TAB/PSPB Ad Hoc Committee to Operationalize Publications Joint Strategy was created to work with these OUs, plus IEEE Publications Operations, to define methods for implementing the approved joint strategy, and to lead the IEEE publishing business through a time of dramatic transformation.

The IEEE Joint TAB/MGA Ad Hoc Committee on Geographic – Technical Activities is working to re-energize Sections and incubate new Chapters by proposing to create “Local Groups”. The introduction of Local Groups would provide an environment where the IEEE is always relevant to those who engage with it. The committee will share more about this proposal at the November Board Series.

Finally, the IEEE Joint TAB/MGA/SA Ad Hoc Committee on Sustainable Development was chartered to act upon the IEEE Board of Directors’ recent resolution on issues of sustainability by mobilizing IEEE constituencies and members, and engaging with external partners and organizations.

As you can see, the important work of these TAB and multi-OU ad hoc committees positions the IEEE for a brighter future by defining new initiatives to better support the global technology community. It is crucial that the IEEE adapts to the ever-changing landscape of technology and continue to energize and engage current and potential members. 

While the November TAB meeting will again, as in June, be held virtually for the safety of our members, I am looking forward to hearing more about the work of these ad hoc committees, and excited to share their year-end accomplishments in my next message.

Be well,

Kazuhiro Kosuge

2020 Vice President, IEEE Technical Activities

No One Left Behind: Connectivity for All

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson

David Witkowski, Chair of IEEE Future Networks Initiative’s (FNI) Deployment Working Group, referenced this quote while speaking about his group’s mission to improve the deployment of cellular technology. “Even in Silicon Valley, not everyone is connected. In San Jose, 10 percent of the population does not have broadband at home,” says Witkowski.

COVID-19 brought the digital divide into the spotlight. In August, students in underserved areas of California sat outside of a Taco Bell to use its public Wi-Fi. Use of telehealth services is encouraged as a way to limit possible exposure, but what about patients who don’t have an internet connection at home?

FNI is addressing these challenges with its mission to develop and deploy 5G and beyond.

Connecting the Unconnected (and Under-connected)

FNI’s Connecting the Unconnected (CTU) Working Group strives to make connectivity for all a fundamental priority like clean water and electricity. However, it’s not just about the unconnected, it’s also about the under-connected.

“More people get left behind with each new generation of mobile technology,” says Sudhir Dixit, CTU Chair. “Over 50 percent of subscribers worldwide are still connected to 2G. As we release new generations of cellular technology, we need to take everybody along. IEEE is about advancing technology for humanity. That’s what we’re doing.”

So far, the CTU working group has produced a white paper to be included in the FNI’s International Network Generations Roadmap project (INGR). The INGR consists of 15 working groups that look 10 years into the future of a specific technical or topical area and then work backwards to determine how the technology needs to evolve and what roadblocks industry will face at three- and five-year timeframes.

As part of INGR, FNI’s Energy Efficiency working group released its first white paper. This group is also looking into under-connected populations and developed a concept it calls the “5G Equality Gap.” The group explains in its white paper, “the 5G Equality Gap (5GEqG) is a hypothetical representation of the socioeconomic disparity between those that will be able to adapt their infrastructure and end use cases to unanticipated underperformance due to energy-limited (5GEG) and/or economically-limited (5GEcG) factors, and those that will not have the resources to be flexible enough to do so.”

The Energy Efficiency working group aims to help industry and government understand the impact of energy on the diversity of 5G rollouts.

Another effort to improve connectivity is the CTU working group’s CTU Challenge competition. This open competition seeks solutions to important use-cases with local relevance where people, businesses, or institutions do not have easy access to broadband. 

The IEEE New Initiatives Committee (NIC) funded the competition which will highlight initiatives happening around the world. CTU will survey the initiatives to determine their key objectives, such as motivation, target population, use cases, business models, key success indicators, and why and how they are funded. Then, they will pick some of the best projects that deploy solutions with real impact.

The goals of the initial stage of the challenge are to:

  • Raise awareness of IEEE’s efforts in CTU;
  • Convene experts from initiatives around the world on a single platform to discuss what needs to be done, share best practices, and collaborate on global projects; and
  • Help the winner take their project further by providing expert support from IEEE.

CTU is planning to extend the challenge and encourage companies, universities, and local groups to participate.

Improve Deployment

In addition to CTU, FNI has other groups working toward improving connectivity for all, such as INGR’s Deployment Working Group, chaired by David Witkowski.

When Witkowski attended the IEEE 5G World Forum in Santa Clara, he noticed that there was little discussion about real-world deployment challenges.

“There was a presumption that deployment would happen, but no in-depth discussion about it. Successful deployment is often a complex process, from securing local government approvals, to protecting the technology from the elements, weather, and animals. It’s a challenge. Even if the technology is well designed, it’s not helpful unless we can deploy it,” says Witkowski.

Through the Deployment Working Group, which recently published its own white paper and started a podcast series, Witkowski is raising awareness of these challenges with both engineers and governments.

“Traditionally, IEEE is good at helping engineers talk to engineers. We need to connect engineers with politicians and become a resource for local governments and even the general public. These conversations are crucial because without a permit from local government, nothing can be deployed,” says Witkowski.

Witkowski shared this critical information during the 2019 IEEE Future Networks Workshop on Digital Inclusion. “We discussed the day-to-day politics of deployment. Some cities have 130-page guidelines for how cellular sites must be designed and built. IEEE members have great ideas, but we’re working to educate engineers about what a city will or won’t allow, and to explain why. It provides a grounded reality that is often eye-opening for members,” says Witkowski. 

“For example, engineers who design semiconductors need to know that energy efficiency is critical because chips that run hot may cause a base station vendor to design equipment that requires a cooling fan – but most cities do not allow active cooling. So, engineers need to design efficient semiconductors. If this is communicated to project managers early in the process, it can save time and cost and avoid wasted effort and failed products. We are also having conversations with local governments to explain that if they want 5G in their city, they need to understand what is – and what is not – practical from an engineering perspective. I’ve actually been in a meeting with a city where I was asked if cellular sites and antennas could be located underground! Obviously, this isn’t possible, so sometimes we have to ask that they adjust their requirements,” says Witkowski.

In his role as executive director of the Wireless Communications Initiative (WCI) at Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a regional non-profit think tank, Witkowski does similar work promoting the advancement and deployment of cellular technology in the Northern California region.

“The WCI was launched in the early days of cellular because sites weren’t being deployed fast enough and it was felt that Silicon Valley should have the best wireless networks in the world. So, we convened the public and private sector to break down barriers between the wireless industry and our local governments. We humanized the process by putting faces to the names on each side, which helped them to better understand each other’s needs and concerns and work toward a mutual solution. This allowed Silicon Valley to move forward and improve our region’s economic development,” says Witkowski.

“When I speak at conferences about the Joint Venture model, I always get requests to implement it in other regions or to scale it nationally. That’s what we’re doing through IEEE, and the Deployment Working Group is the model. We are convening, sharing information and tools, and sharing best practices so cities around the world can implement them,” says Witkowski.

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the shelter-in-place orders implemented to slow the spread of infection, quickly made people aware of their lack of connectivity at home – and the problems that presents. When the shelter-in-place orders closed schools in California, some students were unable to attend their online classes, and schools turned to Joint Venture Silicon Valley for help.

“We started talking to carriers about augmenting coverage in residential areas. We advised the schools and districts to buy and distribute hotspots – which unfortunately were unavailable at the time, so the districts bought smartphones and showed the students how to use them as hotspots. We encouraged carriers to remove data caps and provide discounted SIM card plans to schools and districts. We asked people to donate Chromebooks, collected them, and turned the donations over to schools and districts for refurbishing and distribution. Hotspots were a good solution given the circumstances and the need to move quickly. Now we’re looking at how to build networks that will continue to serve students after the pandemic,” says Witkowski.

Bringing down costs is critical to large-scale deployment and adoption. CTU is taking on that challenge by sharing best practices and standards.

“If we convene all initiatives on a single forum, different countries and projects can share their strategies. We can create a critical mass and bring down cost,” says Dixit.

Dixit notes that there are additional challenges, “People in under-connected areas may not be technically literate. Not all teachers are familiar with Zoom, WebEx, and computers. We need to create highly-secure systems that are both easy to use and affordable.  Additionally, educational content is not always available in digital forms and in all languages. We need to resolve this.”

“We always knew digital inclusion was an issue, but COVID-19 brought those challenges into focus and gave them urgency. Now we have more opportunities to educate leaders and show them the value of building robust communication networks. Some school districts are now saying that providing broadband to students may need to be part of education infrastructure, with direct financial investment such as teachers, books, and classrooms. Some are saying that if they can’t rely on the private sector, they’ll have to do it themselves. It’s a complex problem legally, economically, and technologically,” says Witkowski.

Witkowski believes that IEEE members can help solve these issues by getting involved in the local community. “Our members are often brilliant engineers with deep experience, and local governments need that type of expertise and access to technical resources. IEEE members can volunteer time at local schools, speak at council meetings, or serve on citizens’ commissions. A better-connected population is going to be more educated and productive, and that’s good for everyone.”

Visit the FNI website to learn more about the CTU and Deployment Working Groups.

A Message from the 2020 Technical Activities Vice President

Dear Colleagues,

Throughout the first half of this year, we, as a collective group, have had to process the global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, on behalf of IEEE Technical Activities leadership, I would like to express both concern and support for all the members of the IEEE community and all others affected by the global health crisis. 

The IEEE, including Technical Activities, has adapted in countless ways to the challenges presented by the pandemic. Staff in IEEE’s U.S. offices continue to work remotely. Conferences have transitioned to virtual platforms, with content presented in new and innovative ways. Society and Council volunteer leadership have conducted business remotely. The challenges we are facing have, in an unprecedented way, required us to react quickly to the changing landscape, and both identify and implement new ways of gathering and presenting information. 

While the first IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB) meeting of 2020 was held face-to-face in Orlando, Florida, USA only a few short months ago, the world has changed so much since then. In conjunction with the June 2020 IEEE Virtual Board Series, the second TAB meeting of 2020 was not held in Chicago, Illinois, USA, but rather via a WebEx event. As the duration of the TAB meeting was shortened to accommodate multiple days of meetings over many time zones – a truly global endeavor – only time-sensitive or business critical items were discussed. In the weeks following this virtual meeting, a number of webinars were held to present information from this year’s TAB Ad Hoc Committees, which include for 2020:

  • TAB Ad Hoc on New TA Constituent Model & Opportunities  (Chair: Steve Diamond) 
  • TAB Ad Hoc on 21 Day/24 Hour Rule  (Chair: John Verboncoeur)
  • TAB Ad Hoc on Sections Congress  (Chair: Fred Schindler)
  • TAB Ad Hoc on Accelerate Localization/Globalization of IEEE Technical Contents  (Chair: Peter Luh)

As well as collaboration between TAB and IEEE OUs via 2020 Joint Ad Hoc Committees:

  • IEEE TAB/MGA Ad Hoc Committee on Geographical-Technical (Geo-Tech) Activities (Co-Chairs: John Verboncoeur and Costas Stasopoulus)
  • IEEE MGA/SA/TAB Ad Hoc Committee on Sustainable Development (Co-Chairs: Bruno Meyer, Maike Luiken and Robert Fish)
  • TAB/PSPB Ad Hoc to Operationalize Joint Strategy (Chair: Peter Luh)
  • IEEE TAB/MGA Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Improving Chapter Support (Co-Chairs: Bob Rassa and Jill Gostin)

I would like to acknowledge the exceptional efforts of each of these 2020 Ad Hoc Committees, which I look forward to discussing in greater depth in my next message. 

Finally, as many continue to be directly or indirectly engaged in the fight against COVID-19 and its effects on global health and safety, research, infrastructure, and communications, I would like to note that IEEE has identified articles from the IEEE Xplore digital library that may help researchers understand and manage different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and technologies that can be leveraged to combat it. All content in this collection is now free to access, with additional rights for all types of reuse, including full text and data mining, and analysis.

Thank you again for your membership in the IEEE, and for all that you do to make IEEE a vibrant community. I look forward to working with you this year as we continue working to advance technology for the benefit of humanity.

Be well,

Kazuhiro Kosuge

2020 Vice President, IEEE Technical Activities

COVID-19 Hub: Your IEEE Resources

As we weather the COVID-19 pandemic together, check the IEEE COVID-19 Resource Hub for updates about IEEE members developing technologies to fight the virus, the resources available to you from across IEEE, coping strategies from engineers around the world, and opportunities to get involved in the fight.

Here are a few examples of IEEE Society members working on solutions to COVID-19 issues:

Do You Think You Have COVID-19 Symptoms? Find Out with This App featuring IEEE Senior Member CRS Kumar, who is a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Computer Society.

5 Tips From Education Experts on Effective Remote Instruction features a virtual conference jointly held by the IEEE Education Society and IEEE Educational Activities.

Doctors Can Track Patients’ COVID-19 Symptoms with This App features João Sanches and Hugo Silva who are officers in the IEEE Portugal Section’s IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society Chapter

IEEE Roboticists Use 3D Printers to Make PPE for Healthcare Workers featuring Kaspar lthoefer who is a member of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.

Meet COBO, a COVID-19 Self-Assessment Chatbot featuring Aisha Nazia Nasir Mayin who is the content marketing chair for the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society.