The International Telecommunication Union
is an international
organization within the United Nations (UN) system where governments and
the private sector coordinate global telecom networks and services. Founded in 1865, it is the oldest specialized agency of the UN
system with 189 Member States
and over 700 private sector members.
It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland with 11 regional
offices and approximately 800 staff members of 85 different nationalities.
The basic documents creating the ITU and governing its
overall activities are treaty instruments: the ITU Constitution and Convention. A brief history of ITU and its evolution since
1865, as well as a general description of its current activities, can be found on the ITU website.
ITU’s basic mission includes maintaining and extending
international cooperation in telecommunications, harmonizing actions of Member
States and promoting cooperation between Member States and its private sector
members. ITU’s mission also includes providing technical and policy assistance
to developing countries, and more recently, promoting at the international
level the adoption of a broader approach to issues of telecommunications in the
global information economy and society. In its simplest form, ITU’s mission
statement is “Helping the World Communicate”.
The three Sectors of the ITU, the Radiocommunication
the Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D)
and the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T)
all work to build and support tomorrow's networks and services (see Figure
1.1). Their activities cover all aspects of telecommunications, from setting
standards that facilitate seamless interworking of equipment and systems on a
global basis to adopting operational procedures for the vast and growing array
of wireless services to designing programmes to improve telecommunication
infrastructure in the developing world. ITU's work has provided the essential
foundation that has enabled the telecommunications industry to grow into a
USD 1 trillion industry worldwide.
ITU is unique among international organizations in that it
was founded on the principle of cooperation between governments and the private
sector. With a membership encompassing telecommunication policy-makers and
regulators, network operators, equipment manufacturers, hardware and software
developers, regional standards-making organizations and financing institutions,
ITU's activities, policies and strategic direction are determined and shaped by
the industry it serves.
An Evolving Role
The climate in which ITU operates today is very different from
the one in which it was founded some 139 years ago. During the past 20 years,
telecommunications have grown from a tool that facilitated person-to-person
communications to be an enabling platform that underpins a large number of
human activities; from international trade and commerce to health, public
services and education. Fast, reliable telecommunication networks are now a
vital part of the trans-border delivery of services such as banking,
transportation, tourism, online information and electronic home shopping.
At the same time, ITU's client base has significantly
evolved, due to changes in the way telecommunication services are delivered and
the ongoing convergence of the communication, computing and audio-visual
entertainment industries. As a result, new operators, manufacturers and
suppliers have become much more active in ITU (see Box 1.1). At the same time,
liberalization of the telecommunication sector and the establishment of new
independent regulatory agencies in many countries have also prompted ITU Member
States to look to ITU to provide new services which place greater emphasis on
policy development and regulatory guidance.
Changing Profile of ITU Members
Most active participants in ITU Telecommunication Standardization
Sector (ITU-T) activities
Scientific or Industrial Organizations (SIOs)
NTT, Cisco, Nortel, ETRI, Huawei, Siemens, L. M. Ericsson, ZTE, Alcatel,
Infineon, Lucent, NEC, Fujitsu
Recognized Operating Agencies (ROAs)
France Telecom, Telekom. Polska, China Telecommunication Corporation, BT, Deutsche Telekom, KDDI, Bharat Sanchar Nigam, Telenor ASA, AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Telecom Italia, TeliaSonera, Belgacom
Telecommunication Standardization Bureau.
Before convergence, specific services and networks were not
intertwined. The public switched telephone network (PSTN) was optimized for
person-to-person voice communications. Broadcast networks were optimized for
one-way delivery of radio or television. The Internet in its foundations was
designed for non-real-time transport of packets with no guaranteed quality of
service. These networks and services are converging and the bits flowing over
the networks are “co-mingling”, to borrow a term from the futurist Nicholas
Negroponte. The days when standardization, policy-making, legislation and
international cooperation could assume distinct services running over distinct
technologies and networks are disappearing fast. Therefore, it is not
surprising that a growing number of organizations working in fields such as
computer software development, entertainment and broadcasting are finding value
in ITU membership as their activities become increasingly focused around
In this rapidly changing environment, ITU is changing too,
reshaping itself to ensure it remains relevant to the evolving needs of its
long-standing members, while recognizing and fulfilling the expectations of
ITU Structure and Activities
Each of the ITU’s three Sectors works through conferences,
assemblies and meetings (see Figure 1.2), where members negotiate the
agreements, which serve as the basis for the operation of global
telecommunication services. Study groups made up of experts drawn from leading
telecommunication organizations worldwide carry out the technical work of the
Union, preparing the detailed studies that lead to authoritative ITU
ITU-R draws up the technical characteristics of terrestrial
and space-based wireless services and systems, and develops operational
procedures. It also undertakes the important technical studies, which serve as
a basis for the regulatory decisions made at radiocommunication conferences.
In ITU-T, experts prepare the technical specifications for
telecommunication systems, networks and services, including their operation,
performance and maintenance. Their work also covers the tariff principles and
accounting methods used to provide international service.
ITU-D experts focus their work on the preparation of
recommendations, opinions, guidelines, handbooks, manuals and reports, which
provide decision-makers in developing countries with “best business practices”
relating to a host of issues ranging from development strategies and policies
to network management.
There are currently 24 study groups spanning the Union's
three Sectors (seven in ITU-R, fourteen in ITU-T, two in ITU‑D), which
together produce around 550 new or revised Recommendations every year. All ITU
Recommendations are non-binding, voluntary agreements.
Each Sector also has its own Bureau, which ensures the
implementation of the respective Sector's work plan and coordinates activities
on a day-to-day basis.
Telecommunication Policy Forum
In 1996, ITU initiated the World Telecommunication Policy
an informal international gathering convened on an ad hoc basis to harmonize
telecommunication policies on issues, which extend beyond the domain of any
single country. Established at the ITU Kyoto Plenipotentiary Conference (1994),
its purpose is to provide a forum where ITU Member States and Sector Members
can discuss and exchange views and information on emerging telecommunication
policy and regulatory matters arising from the changing telecommunication
environment. The WTPF does not produce prescriptive regulatory outcomes or
outputs with binding force, it prepares reports and, where appropriate,
opinions for consideration by Members and other relevant ITU meetings. The last
WTPF was held in Geneva in March 2001 on the theme of Internet Protocol (IP)
ITU is also responsible for organizing ITU TELECOM, the
world's largest and most influential telecommunication exhibition and forum.
ITU WORLD TELECOM is normally held every four years, with two regional events held
each year in the intervening years, covering Asia, Africa, the Americas and the
Arab States on a rotating basis. Designed as a service to ITU members, ITU
TELECOM showcases the latest technologies and promotes in-depth discussion of
key issues facing the industry through a comprehensive, wide-ranging Forum
programme (see Box 1.2).
Box 1.2: ITU TELECOM WORLD
ITU TELECOM WORLD 2003,
which took place from 12 to 18 October 2003 in Geneva, underlined why it stands
as the most important meeting place for the global communications industry.
With the industry only now showing signs of recovery, 911 exhibitors
representing 51 countries were present with over 375 industry's CEOs and 148
government ministers and regulators participating in the event. Over 1 500
journalists, including 300 broadcast media and more than 120 industry analysts,
were also accredited for the show.
government regulators and telecommunications ministers participated in the WORLD
2003 Forum. The Forum included six days of presentations and debate on critical
industry issues ranging from broadband and mobility, to new business models and
sources of revenue. Many of the sessions gave rise to passionate discussion on how new technologies can best be
harnessed to bring connectivity to more than one million villages in the world
that are yet to connect to the information society. Some concern was expressed
by participants from developing countries who feared that their efforts to bridge
the digital divide could be hindered if advances in technology were too rapid
and they were unable to keep pace.
Announcements of partnership
agreements included that of Microsoft creating mobile web services standards
with Vodafone, Boingo Wireless announcement of a deal with PicoPoint, an
Amsterdam-based global Wi-Fi hot spot enabler, HP's announcement with
Alcatel of advanced business services to the SMB market, Samsung Electronics'
agreement with Orca Interactive, Optibase and Kasenna to provide triple-play
solution for video over xDSL services, and many more.
The show reflected the
fast-changing nature of the telecommunication industry, with a strong presence
from Asia. More than 145 of the 911 exhibitors represented the Asia-Pacific
region, including large companies such as NTT DoCoMo, Sony and NEC
showcasing their latest technology, while Panasonic, Sanyo and Samsung featured
consumer products just coming to market.
Two of the show's largest
stands were those of Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation, both Chinese
companies—not surprising given that China has now become the world's largest
telecommunication market (measured by number of subscribers).
Exhibitors participating in
the event showcased products and services on fixed and wireless broadband
(fibre, ADSL, WLAN), next-generation convergence networks, voice over IP
(including voice over ADSL), mobile data solutions and high-speed 2.5 and 3G
wireless systems. In contrast with the previous WORLD event, there was less
focus on technology for technology's sake, and much more focus on technology in
action in real-life business environments—business communications and solutions
targeting improved productivity and new revenue streams.
Since 1971, ITU TELECOM
WORLD has provided an unrivalled platform for strategic debate and business
networking, bringing together the industry's CEOs, government ministers and
regulators. The next ITU TELECOM event is ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2004, which will
take place from 4 to 8 May in Cairo, Egypt. It will be followed by ITU TELECOM
ASIA 2004 in Busan, Republic of Korea from 7 to 11 September.