December 2021 Beacon

The Fifth IEEE OES Underwater Communications and Networking (UComms21) Conference

João Alves (UComms 2021 General Chair), OES AdCom member 

The UComms conference series, Organised by the NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE), is focused on working towards a deep understanding of the propagation of communication signals underwater and the performance of necessary higher-level protocols with the objective of supporting the intelligent choice of underwater communications standards, as a foundation for interoperability.

This highly regarded, academic conference has been held every other year since 2012 and was set to have its fifth edition in early September 2020.

With the new world context imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 2020, the UComms organising team issued a survey targeted at UComms’ authors and community of interest (including the technical committee members and UComms 2018 attendees). The intention of the survey was to collect the feedback of such interested parties with the ultimate goal of educating a decision for the 2020 edition of UComms.

The answers collected showed a clear preference for postponing the conference. This came with little surprise as UComms has always been highly regarded for its ability to remain specialised, attract the best researchers and promote face-to-face discussions that move the field forward.

Following such clear indication, and after close consultation with the conference sponsors, a decision was taken to postpone the conference until September 2021.

UComms Webinar 2020

In order to maintain community engagement, CMRE, the IEEE OES and the NATO Allied Command Transformation organised the first UComms Webinar series. The Webinar series, which was held between the 1st and 4th of December, 2020, consisted of four invited talks broadcast live though CMRE’s social media channels. The line-up of the talks was as follows:

Milica Stojanovic, Northeastern University (USA): “Underwater Acoustic Communications: Is Transmit Beamforming a Possibility?”

Ian Akyildiz, Technology Innovation Institute (Abu Dhabi): “Next Decade Challenges for Underwater Wireless Communication Networks

Mandar Chitre, National University of Singapore (Singapore): “Underwater Acoustics in the Age of Differentiable and Probabilistic Programming

João Alves, NATO STO CMRE (Italy): “JANUS: Why It Matters and the Critical Path into the Future

Figure 1: Prof. Mandar Chitre, JOE editor-in-chief, during his invited talk at the UComms webinar

Thanks to the sponsoring organizations and the speakers who generously agreed to take part in this event, the webinar was free and open to all. This format proved to be very effective at engaging wide participation and promoting open discussion.

All materials from the webinar (abstracts, bios and the lectures) remain available through the UComms website (, navigating to “UComms Webinar 2020”.

UComms 2021

Given the prolonged effects of the pandemic and the restrictions still in place at the time, there was no possibility to organise an in-person conference in Italy in September 2021. The conference still had a commitment to the authors to publish their manuscripts (originally submitted for the conference in 2020) and for that reason it was decided to hold a remote conference on the dates of the planned in-person event: from August 31st to September 2nd.

Just like with all UComms editions, this conference was organised in a series of structured sessions that were coordinated by key researchers in the field, aiming at gathering top quality contributions that could lead to a vibrant exchange of knowledge and increase common understanding of the state-of-the-art. The multiple sessions were handled in a single track, giving the opportunity to all participants to follow all the talks and take part in all discussions.

The session organisers took the role of inviting papers, managed the reviews, ranked and selected the final presentations in coordination with the general chairs and conducted their session at the conference.

For UComms 2021 a total of eight sessions were set up:

  • “Machine Learning for Adaptive Underwater Communications” (this session was eventually dropped and papers absorbed in other sessions);
  • “The Roles of Deterministic and Statistical Methods in Acoustic Propagation Modelling for Underwater Acoustic Communications Simulation and Performance Prediction”;
  • “Networking, Localisation and Scheduling”;
  • “Next-generation Adaptive Modem Architectures and Cognitive Networking Strategies”;
  • “Interoperability and Standards”;
  • “Non-Acoustic Underwater Communications”;
  • “New Applications Enabled by Next-generation Underwater Acoustic Comms”;
  • “Channel-aware Security and Protocol Design.”

A total of 30 short papers (strictly four pages plus references) were accepted for presentation and publication after the usual peer review process of UComms. The program was then arranged to fit a daily time window of approximately four hours to accommodate as much as possible the different time zones taking part in the remote presence conference (14:00-18:00 CEST).

The conference was open by CMRE’s director, Dr. Catherine Warner, and proceeded with live presentations of all accepted manuscripts with Q&A sessions moderated by the respective session organisers.

Figure 2: CMRE Director, Dr. Catherine Warner, delivering her UComms opening address

Thanks to the sponsorship structure of the conference and the reduced organizational costs when compared to in-person editions, CMRE was able to conduct UComms free-of-charge for participants and authors, contributing to a significant knowledge sharing opportunity for those interested in the field. A total of 195 delegates registered from around the globe to join the UComms technical presentations.

The book of abstracts of the conference is available in the UComms website ( and the video presentations are available in CMRE’s YouTube channel ( for the scientific community for a-posteriori viewing.

A Special edition of the JOE will be setup with a selection of articles to be expanded and published in full article form.


Future UComms Conferences

UComms is now a well-established international biennial conference series, bringing together participants from around the globe to share their latest developments in the ever-evolving topic of underwater communications. UComms success was achieved through the recurring participation of the top scholars in the field, the strict peer review process, the focused topic, and the opportunities created for networking and discussions.

The current plan is to hold the next edition of UComms in 2022, returning to a full in-presence format for what will be its 10th anniversary. The call for papers is expected to be issued before the end of 2021.