Committed to connecting the world

SDG Digital

ITU’s growing and evolving membership

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has represented public-private partnership over most of its history since its inception in 1865. Over that time, communications technologies have evolved dramatically, while the sector has expanded and transformed from state-owned public utilities to include privately-owned companies, software companies and tech start-ups. Today, ITU is unique among United Nations agencies in bringing together not just 193 Member States, but also over 800 private sector companies and international and regional organizations, as well as more than 150 academic institutions.

Following several years of growth, ITU’s private sector and academia membership is now (as of mid-2022) approaching the milestone of 1 ​000 organizations from virtually all parts of the wide-ranging information and communication technology (ICT) industry and ecosystem. They range from the world’s largest manufacturers and carriers to small, innovative players working with new and emerging technologies, along with leading research and development (R&D) institutions and academia.

These members opt to engage based on their specific interests and expertise, via three key sectors: Radiocommunication, Telecommunication Standardization, and Telecommunication Development. Each “sector member” (private sector or academia) belongs to at least one of those three sectors of ITU’s work.

ITU's Evolving Membership BCKGROUNDER PP18 - Members numbers

Expanding sector membership

​​In a world of converging technologies, new stakeholders continue entering the digital space, and ITU’s membership has kept evolving to reflect this.

In addition to the traditional telecom and satellite operators and equipment manufacturers, ITU’s membership also now includes Internet providers, tower manufacturers, Internet of Things services, artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, digital health and finance firms, and a host of other specialized concerns.

Today’s private sector members reflect the rapidly changing nature of the world’s digital economy, where connected platforms and applications are essential to all aspects of production, trade, and services. ITU is now attracting cross-cutting participation from companies operating largely outside the tech sector, including automakers, transport providers, and utilities.

Private sector entities join ITU as Sector Members or Associates. This allows them to contribute to the development of standards and identification of best practices at the global level; engage in global and regional debates and discussions; launch innovative public-private partnerships for specific projects; and engage directly with ICT regulators and policy-makers, as well as with experts from industry and academia.

Sector Members and Associates have played a vital role in ITU’s work since 1992, enhancing the capacity of ITU’s worldwide body of Member States to address emerging issues and rapid changes in the telecommunication/ICT sector. Sector Members can engage broadly within their chosen ITU Sector, while Associates can participate in a specific Study Group.

How governments engage

National governments join ITU as Member Stat​es.

Telecommunication networks have historically been operated as both public and private companies. Based on arguments of economies of scale, many large telecom networks were operated as state-owned public monopolies, before the privatization and liberalization of the 1980s and 1990s. National governments have always worked closely through ITU and national governments continue to play an important role in setting ‘framework conditions’ for ICTs, including the development of national ​regulations and the allocation of radio-frequency spectrum and orbital slots, all key areas of interest in the work of ITU. ITU became part of the United Nations institutional family in 1949 and today remains one of 15 UN specialized agencies.

ITU currently includes 193 Member States from all around the globe.

See the full list of the classes of contributions and an explanation of how Member States join.

See leading budget contributors and learn how ITU is funded.

How private-sector and academia members engage

​ITU – uniquely among UN agencies – is open to private-sector membership, with companies or other organizations joining in other one or more of these broad sectors of ITU’s work:

Each of these ITU Sectors encompasses designated Study Groups focused on key industry, policy, technology, and other issues.

Even before privatization and liberalization, the private sector played a vital role in ITU’s work. Fully engaged Sector Members can participate in fully across broad areas of ITU work, entitled to participate in all Study Groups within whichever ITU Sector they join. Some companies and organizations opt to join more than one ITU Sector.​

Entities that have a specific focus, meanwhile, may choose to participate in a single Study Group by joining ITU as an Associate. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can participate as an Associate in any given Study Group with reduced fees. Sector Members from developing countries also benefit from reduced rates. Academia, universities, and their associated research establishments that join ITU can participate in all three sectors based on a single fee with preferential rates.

Learn more about ITU’s membership.

​​Last update: May 2022​