ITU's standards-making efforts are its best-known — and oldest — activity. Working at the coalface of the world's fastest changing industry, today's Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) continues to evolve, adopting streamlined working methods and more flexible, collaborative approaches designed to meet the needs of increasingly complex markets.
Specialists drawn from industry, the public sector and R&D entities worldwide meet regularly to thrash out the intricate technical specifications that ensure that each piece of communications systems can interoperate seamlessly with the myriad elements that make up today's complex ICT networks and services.
The result of a cooperative effort that sees leading industry players put their competitive rivalries aside in favour of building global consensus on new technologies, ITU-T standards (known as Recommendations) are the bedrock underpinning the modern information and communication networks that serve as the lifeblood of virtually every economic activity.
For manufacturers, they facilitate access to global markets and allow for economies of scale in production and distribution, safe in the knowledge that ITU-T-compliant systems will work anywhere in the world: for purchasers from telcos to multinational companies to ordinary consumers, they provide assurances that equipment will integrate effortlessly with other installed systems.
Today's working methods bear little resemblance to the old-fashioned paper-based procedures that once made standards agreement a lengthy and arduous operation. The development of electronic working methods, first introduced in the late 1990s, complemented by a dramatic overhaul of approval procedures in 2001, has meant that the time needed to adopt final technical texts has been cut by as much as 95 per cent.
But if procedural reform was top of the ITU-T agenda five years ago, today's keynote is cooperation and collaboration.
There is now a general understanding that the nature of the ICT market means you cannot go it alone. That's why, over the past eight years, ITU-T has adopted a very proactive stance when it comes to working with other standards organizations, from large industry entities to smaller single-technology groups. As the only truly global ICT standardization organization, ITU has taken a lead role in bringing together senior figures from ICT standards groups worldwide, with a view to fostering inter-organizational cooperation and avoiding duplication of effort.
Other activities designed to promote a new spirit of collaboration include regular workshops on key industry topics, often in partnership with industry groups. Such workshops not only serve as a platform for better standards-making coordination, they also promote the knowledge sharing essential for the rapid development of new technologies, particularly in developing countries. A recent initiative will bring greater participation of academia and encourage emerging young talents to familiarize themselves with the work of ITU.
Looking ahead, convergence between different industry types is one of the main challenges facing the Sector. With traditional telephone services, mobile networks and TV and radio broadcasting now beginning to carry new kinds of services, the scene is set for a revolution in the way we communicate and process information.
As in the past, when seismic shifts transformed the simple world of the telegraph to create wireline telephony, followed by radio and satellite systems, fibre optic networks, and cellular mobile, ITU-T plays a central and critical role in ushering in this new converged environment. ITU-T coordinates global efforts, promotes technical excellence and impartiality in standards development, and builds the consensus needed to ensure that new technologies and equipment are embraced worldwide.