Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

6th Session Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals

​UN Headquarters, New York, USA, 10 December 2013

Information and Communication Technologies, ICTs for short, are now in all walks of life: entertainment; transportation; education; work; health; utilities; trade; etc. And we are increasingly living in a global world – a complex, interdependent world.

What ITU does

ITU, the International Telecommunication Union, is the specialized agency of the United Nations for ICT issues.


  • allocates
    1. frequency spectrum to different radio services,
    2. geostationary satellite orbital locations,
    3. numbers and identifiers (e.g. country codes)
  • develops standards (optical fibre standards; Internet access standards; video coding standards)
  • assists developing countries in improving their ICT infrastructure

Interplay between innovation, patents and standards

The World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS Forum) represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ‘ICT for development’ community. The annual one-week gathering in May attracts about 2000 stakeholders from around 150 countries.

One of the sessions this year was the “WSIS High Level Dialogue on ICT Innovations and Standards”. The objective of this dialogue session was to discuss some of the ICT innovations happening in the developing world and whether such innovations could give rise to new ICT standards, fuel socioeconomic development, and improve quality of life in emerging economies.

Many questions focused on the relationship between innovation, patents, competition law, and standardization, in the context of ICTs.

In response to a call for clear but easy-to-understand guidance on these legal and policy aspects, ITU will publish a manual at the beginning of next year in all six UN languages.

ITU and innovation

ITU has also set up a group that focuses on ICT Innovations in emerging economies and their potential for standardization.

ITU and standards

Today’s intertwined world would be impossible without standards.

ITU’s international standards ensure that the global networks can interoperate, that products from different manufacturers are compatible, and that vendors, operators, service providers and consumers benefit from the lower costs resulting from the economies of scale, and competition, that international standards create.

ITU’s business has been producing international standards to ensure interconnection and interoperability of international telecommunication ever since its foundation in 1865 to overcome the cross border incompatibility of the telegraph service. This remains one of its core functions to today, despite the ever increasing complexity and convergence of the telecommunications and information technology sector, and the pervasive and ubiquitous nature of ICTs in basically all sectors of life.

ITU, Patents and Standards

ITU’s international standards can be implemented on a world-wide basis. They must therefore satisfy the requirements of the full ITU membership: 193 governments and over 700 private sector entities.

It also means that anyone anywhere has the right to build equipment or provide services that meet these standards. Any patents in the standards must therefore be made available either free of charge or on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

ITU has a common patent policy with the two other international standards organizations, ISO and IEC, with whom ITU works very closely with under the umbrella of the World Standards Cooperation.

The patent policy is a very critical and a very topical issue at the moment, and ITU has an expert group that meets regularly to discuss these issues.

ITU measures the information society

ITU publishes an acclaimed annual report called “Measuring the Information Society”.

The report identifies key ICT developments, and tracks the cost and affordability of ICT services, in accordance with internationally agreed methodologies.

Throughout the report, we pay particular attention to the uptake and spread of fixed- and wireless-broadband services worldwide.

The latest trends show that fixed-broadband subscriptions continue to grow at double-digit rates in developing countries, starting from a low base. In developed countries, growth has slowed down over the past couple of years but there is still a substantial divide between developing and developed countries, with fixed-broadband penetration in developing countries remaining at a low 6% compared with 27% in developed countries.

Mobile-broadband access is growing very fast, at over 40% annually. Half of the world’s population now lives within reach of a mobile-broadband or 3G network. This is impressive given that in many developing countries 3G services were only introduced very recently.

Mobile-broadband penetration stands now at almost 30% globally, up from only 6% 5 years ago.

In developing countries, the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions doubled over the last two years. However, there remains a substantial gap between developed and developing countries: mobile-broadband penetration will reach almost 75% in developed countries by the end of this year, compared with around 20% in developing countries.

One of the main features of the report is the ICT Development Index or IDI. The IDI has been developed by ITU as a global benchmarking tool that monitors and ranks countries according to a combination of 11 indicators, covering the 3 areas of ICT access, ICT use, and ICT skills, covering 157 economies.

The Republic of Korea, followed by Sweden, continues to lead the world in terms of ICT developments, followed by the other Nordic countries.

Overall, ICT levels continue to increase throughout the world, but at the same time, huge differences remain. For example, the average IDI value in developed countries is twice as high as the developing-country average.

The group of 39 countries with the lowest IDI values is home to 2.4 billion people – almost one-third of the world’s population. People in these countries have only limited access to advanced ICT services, such as broadband Internet access.

The biggest improvements however are from the developing world.

For example, the United Arab Emirates has jumped up 12 places over the past year, and Lebanon 9 places.

The report concludes that governments can play an important role in driving ICT growth and uptake by adopting and implementing a national broadband plan, promoting competition, and encouraging private-sector investment.

The report includes a detailed analysis of consumer prices for both fixed and mobile broadband services, and for different types of packages that are offered in the market.

For fixed broadband, there has been an impressive 82% fall in prices since 2008, the biggest drop in developing countries, though it still remains expensive.

Similarly mobile-broadband is relatively affordable in the developed world, while services are much less affordable in the developing world.

However, mobile-broadband services are often cheaper than comparable fixed-broadband services, especially in developing countries.

Digital natives are defined as the population of networked youth – aged 15-24 years – with five or more years of online experience. Data on the digital natives population are provided for 180 countries.

In 2012 around 5% of the world population were digital natives, or 30% cent of the world’s youth.

As might be expected the percentage of Internet users is much higher among the younger people than among the other age groups, and this gap is more pronounced in the developing world. For example, in Eritrea, Internet usage amongst young people is almost 3 times as high as the average, whereas in Sweden (the other end of the spectrum), there is little difference among Internet usage between young people and others.

The report estimates that within the next five years, the digital native population in developing countries will more than double.Today, almost 80% of households worldwide have a TV. This makes TV by far the more pervasive ICTs.

Between 2008 and 2012, the world witnessed a massive shift from analogue to digital TV reception. The halfway mark was passed in 2012 when more households received digital than analogue signals.

Digital cable subscriptions and digital terrestrial TV (DTT) more than doubled between 2008 and 2012.

But the technology that had the highest growth was IPTV, with total subscriptions increasing more than fourfold, although in absolute terms it still represents only a marginal share of total households with a TV (5%).

The reports contain a great deal of detail are available free of charge on the ITU website and.