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ITU and its Activities Related to Internet Protocol (IP) Networks


Chapter One: Background on ITU

1.1              Introduction

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU)[1] 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.[2]  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.[3] A brief history[4] of ITU and its evolution since 1865, as well as a general description of its current activities,[5] 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 Sector (ITU-R),[6] the Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D)[7] and the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T)[8] 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.

1.2              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.


Figure 1.1: ITU Structure: Simple view
Simplified overview of the ITU’s structure

Source: ITU.

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.

Box 1.1: 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

Source: ITU 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 telecommunications-based services.

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 newer players.

1.3              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 Recommendations.

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.


Figure 1.2: ITU Structure: Complex view
Complex view of ITU’s structure

Source: ITU.

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.

1.4              World Telecommunication Policy Forum

In 1996, ITU initiated the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF),[9] 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) Telephony.[10]

1.5              ITU TELECOM

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).



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.

Industry-leading CEOs, 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.




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Updated : 2011-04-04